Personal injury lawyer Darryl Singer talks to host Barb DiGiulio about car accidents, car insurance, and distracted driving on “The Night Side.” (1 hour)
With the new Ontario rules of “self-reporting car accidents,” due to too many minor collisions, there is no accident report written by a police officer. Many accident victims will then see a personal injury lawyer without this report that is probably missing key information such as: what happened; who the other driver is; what is the other driver’s address and contact information; what is the other driver’s insurance company, and so on.
“What I see happening, as a personal injury lawyer, is that soft tissue injuries like whiplash often take months to manifest. They are not immediate. So, without that police report, it makes it difficult to prove who was at fault,” says Darryl Singer.
SCOPE Contributor Darryl Singer is a paralegal-positive litigator, well-known for his effective CPD presentations. He discusses some reasons the holiday season holds so many pitfalls for licensees; what warning signs to look for; and how to seek help for yourself or someone else.
The December holidays pose a paradox: for all the happiness and celebration, this time of year can cause or exacerbate extreme financial pressure, anxiety, depression, and addiction — not to mention overall stress. These can be separate issues, but more often than not, they are inextricably linked in a spiral of despair.
We are bombarded with hundreds of messages a day at this time of year, exhorting us to be especially happy, to celebrate with family, to be in love, and to shop, shop, shop. For many legal professionals, the nightly client parties and events this month are also times to be judged for NOT drinking.
Unfortunately, even those individuals whose lives are ones of general contentedness and satisfaction, who are able to eschew materialism the rest of the year, and who generally handle daily stress with a devil-may-care attitude, can find this time of year to be trying.
The anxiety surrounding family and other social gatherings; the financial pressure to make sure your kids aren’t the only ones not getting the new PS4, and that your staff are satisfied with their bonus; the elevated stress levels associated with the sheer number of social commitments or from the lack of a significant social network; and the loneliness of those who are single or estranged from family — these are just a few stresses and pressures the holiday season brings.
‘Tis the Season For Torment
These pressures apply equally to Christians and non-Christians alike, as well as to legal professionals and non-legal types. Sadly, as much as the undercurrent of stress and sadness is lost in the patina of seasonal happiness, the negative effects of the holidays are amplified by many magnitudes for those already suffering from depression or struggling with addiction.
In fact, the holiday season seems like some sort of karmic joke designed specifically to torment addicts and those with depression. It can also have the severe effect of pushing those with mild depression or functional addiction (if there is such a thing) over the edge, into full-blown episodes from which it can take months or years of effort to recover, if ever.
As I wrote in a previous article for this publication, addiction and depression strike the legal profession three times as often as the general public. This may be the time of year when you see the signs of depression and/or addiction in colleagues who have managed to mask it throughout the year.
Consider these facts:
- Stress and anxiety of any kind, be it financial, social, familial, romantic, are all heightened during this time of year. For those with anxiety disorders or depression, the added pressures and anxiety-producing situations unique to the holidays, often create a level of chaos that cannot be managed without professional intervention.
- It appears that those suffering a situational depression resulting from the loss of a loved one, through death or break-up, are less able to cope during this time of year. Holiday pressure can turn what might be a short-term depression, into a full-scale depressive disorder.
- This is the time of jubilation, often to be found in the consumption of alcohol. Those with addictions to alcohol or other substances are not only surrounded by temptation, but implicitly told that it’s okay to “tie one on.” And when everyone else in the room is feeling buzzed it’s much easier for the addict to fit in, and justify to himself that it’s not really destructive.
- Depression/anxiety and addiction often go hand in hand. One seems to beget the other.
If You Think You Have a Problem
If you think you may be suffering from depression, or that you may be an addict, unless you are a Woody Allen-esque hypochondriac, you likely are. Rather than using this time of year as an excuse to indulge in your excesses, or to tell yourself the depression and anxiety will pass once the holidays are done, seek help. Immediately.
Friends, family, your family doctor, are all good places to start. Legal professionals can access the Law Society’s Members’ Assistance Program (http://www.lsuc.on.ca/map/) or the Ontario Lawyers’ Assistance Plan (http://www.olap.ca/ ) for immediate peer-to-peer mentoring and referral to professional help.
If you think someone you know may be suffering from these afflictions, don’t sit idly by. As a member of the LSUC, you have a duty to the profession and the public to report another member if you believe that member has an illness (and yes, depression, anxiety disorders, and substance addiction are indeed diseases — the science on this is well-settled).
I would approach the member and try to convince them to seek help on their own. If they shun your overtures, and you believe their illness puts their clients at risk, then you must fulfill your duty and report the individual. Tough love, but the person will thank you down the road when they have recovered.
If it is a friend or family member who is not a lawyer or paralegal, again the first thing is to approach them, let them know you care, and are there to help them.
Encourage them to seek treatment of their own volition. If they refuse, then you may need to organize an intervention, in which the friends and family gather, essentially to force the person into the treatment they need. If you need to go this route, seek the assistance of an addiction specialist or medical doctor specializing in depression (as the case may be) to make sure any intervention is done effectively.
Peace, Goodwill, Recovery
Check the resources available at the websites of Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) (http://www.camh.ca/); Homewood Health Centre (http://homewood.org/); and Bellwood Health Services (http://www.bellwood.ca/), among others. You can also take the individual (if they are in an immediate state of crisis and you believe they are a threat to themselves or someone else) to your local hospital emergency room, with police assistance if necessary.
Darryl Singer is a Toronto litigator who has been recovered from drug addiction and depression for four years. His Jewishness does not prevent him from getting into the “Christmas and holiday spirit.”
Just as there seems to be a special focus this time of year on helping food banks and toy drives to ensure nobody goes without at the holiday season, let’s not forget that most of those suffering from depression and addiction suffer in silence.
If this time of year is really about peace and goodwill and helping our fellow humans, then do not forget this important piece of the human puzzle. When we help people recover from illnesses such as alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and anxiety, our community as a whole benefits.
And that’s really what the Christmas spirit is all about.
by Elizabeth Published on Paralegal Scope Magazine
Darryl Singer is a lawyer well-known to paralegals for his effective CPD presentations. He shares his knowledge of assistance available to legal professionals who are coping with issues such as depression.
In any given year, according to Statistics Canada, approximately 5% of the population will experience a major episode of depression. Almost 15% of us will suffer from such an illness at some point in our lives.
According to the Canadian Medical Association, depression is the fastest rising medical diagnosis in Canada and accounts for over 11 million doctor visits a year. Add to this burden on our system the lost work productivity and it is clear depression is an issue that needs to be addressed as a society at the macro level.
However, on a micro level, the legal profession is even worse off. It is estimated by some studies that lawyers will suffer depression at three times the rate of the population at large, yet are far less likely to seek treatment for it.
Although the studies deal specifically with lawyers, there is every reason to assume the statistics either do or eventually will apply to paralegals. Since paralegals are now Law Society licensees, they face the same professional, business, and personal pressures attributed to lawyers. So for the balance of this article I will refer to lawyers and paralegals simply as legal professionals or licensees.
High Expectations, Competing Demands
I suspect the reason for increased incidences of depression amongst legal professionals is because we are entrusted with our clients’ most significant personal and business problems, sometimes including their very liberty or financial well being. Their problems become our problems.
Then there are the expectations we have of a particular lifestyle, having invested much time, money and effort to attain our Law Society licence; the tangential expectations of our financial success by others in our lives based on some perceived “status”; the very real pressures generating business; doing the work generated in a timely manner; billing and collecting on that work; long hours away from family and friends; the increasing expectation with technological advances that we must always be available and that everything needs to be done yesterday.
And this is for those of us who are for the most part successful in our career. For others, particularly at either end of the experience spectrum, there are more basic issues, like even finding work in the first place or phasing out of the only work you have ever known (often not by choice).
Then there are the challenges unique to those who litigate, as opposed to those members of the profession whose work does not require them to attend court or tribunals.
Litigators of all experience levels and specialties must navigate the course of a file with greater burdens than ever — in addition to the problems enumerated above, they must also struggle with systemic delays (which clients do not understand and for which the client will inevitably blame the legal professional); an economy that makes the cost of running a practice more expensive than at any other time while at the same time making it more difficult to get paid; clients more aware about their ability to report you to the LSUC or file a claim with your negligence insurer; and a constantly increasingly lack of civility amongst members of the profession.
The most surprising thing about the recent statistics is that the numbers are not higher.
I regularly defend lawyers and paralegals at Law Society discipline hearings through the Advocates’ Society’s excellent and much needed volunteer duty counsel program. It has been my experience, and that of many of my colleagues on the duty counsel roster, that a disproportionate number of licensee defendants in these disciplinary proceedings suffered from some form of mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety. Most did not seek any treatment or assistance of any kind until after they had run sufficiently afoul of the Rules of Professional Conduct (or worse).
Note: While I use the word depression in this article because it references the particular statistics set out herein, depression is intended as an all encompassing term that also includes anxiety and panic attacks, debilitating stress headaches, other psychosomatic illnesses as well as other types of mental health issues.
It is also worth noting that mental health issues often go hand in hand with some sort of addiction or substance abuse. Often the effects of the addiction on one’s life and psyche lead to depression, while at other times the depression results in some form of self-medication which in turn leads to addiction. In many instances the depression and the self-destructive behavior run hand-in-hand, and it is virtually indistinguishable where one stops and the other begins.
The potential to cause costly and often irreparable harm, when our own mental health issues prevent us from dealing with both our clients’ matters and our law practices timely and appropriately, cannot be overstated. Yet the fear of “coming out” as someone suffering from depression is terrifying to most of us.
I remember thinking when I was suffering some years ago, “These people trust me to solve their problems and I can’t even handle my own life! What will everyone think of me? My clients, my colleagues, my sources of referral? Will they all turn against me, blacklist me, be afraid to deal with me? Will the Law Society get involved?” This is what is going through the minds of thousands of legal professionals at this very moment.
Paradigm Changes Needed
As a profession, we need to recognize this problem and deal with it in terms of education, compassion, and a change in mindset about how we view ourselves as members of the Law Society.
This has to start with the schools, the Law Society, the large firms, and the most senior and successful members of the profession We need to pay more than lip service to the concept of work/life balance, must accept a new economic paradigm, and learn to see our jobs as an integral part of our lives but not as the be all and end all.
Most importantly, the stigma of depression needs to be lifted. It is time for all those of us who have suffered, overcome our difficulties and thrived, to “come out” for the benefit of those still suffering in silence. One person going without help will result in deleterious effects for many others beyond just that practitioner, and ultimately our profession’s failure to address the issue will in the long run hurt both our public image and our ability to self-govern.
So what exactly needs to be done? We need to educate the profession, starting during school, that depression is not a barrier to a successful career if it is treated or managed. The message must be disseminated to the furthest reaches of the profession that those who seek help will not automatically face disciplinary action either by their employer or the Law Society. Programs like OLAP and the LSUC’s current Member Assistance Program through Homewood must continue to be funded, have a peer counseling component, and guarantee confidentiality. And such programs must ensure that members who seek help receive the best available care in a timely fashion.
Most importantly, the message from on high needs to be that asking for help demonstrates strength of character rather than weakness of will.
Darryl Singer is a Toronto litigator and peer counsellor with the Ontario Lawyers’ Assistance Program (OLAP).
by Elizabeth Published on Paralegal Scope Magazine