Conversations with the President

Best of Stephen Rotstein & Guests on Mental Health

Episode Summary

Conversations with the President Mental Health Week Special: Highlights from Stephen Rotstein’s conversations with Justice Michele Hollins, Kendra Goertzen and Caitlin Urquhart.

Episode Notes

Conversations with the President Mental Health Week Special: 

During his tenure, Stephen has made community building, volunteerism and mental health his top priorities. This episode of CWP brings inspiring insights on all three but particularly mental health. Taken from Stephen Rotstein’s conversations with Justice Michele Hollins, Kendra Goertzen and Caitlin Urquhart.

Managing mental health in general, within the legal profession and within the broader community. Overcoming depression and addiction and excelling professionally. 

Everybody’s good at going to the gym but that isn’t enough recharge your battery on an emotional level.

Episode Transcription


[Start of recorded material 00:00:00]

Michele:           I just was sad, and I was sad every day. And it just didn't get better.

Facilitator:        In our special episode on mental health. Some of the more moving parts of my conversations with Michele Hollins, Kendra Goertzen, and Caitlin Urquhart.

Caitlin:             Every aspect, you know, from my sort of social health and my mental health. And as I say, I've worked in small firms. So being able to vent about, you know, the realities of the legal practice, it's really important. 

Kendra:             Sometimes I'll eat a whole pizza, you know, there's lots of stuff that you can do. Ice cream for dinner, that's another good one that I really, especially in early sobriety, I was doing a lot. I try to be easy on myself in those ways. But what I'm not doing any more, is just escaping completely.

Michele:           You're either a person who is going through depression, or you're a person who knows someone who is, I think, as a lawyer. And so, my advice is, if you are not coping, and you know you're not coping, don't delay in accessing some help. I drove myself nearly to a point of no return.

Recording:        This is Conversations with the President, presented by the Canadian Bar Association.

Facilitator:        Hello, I'm Stephen Rotstein, President of the Canadian Bar Association, May 2nd to May 8th is Mental Health Week. It's a great time to reflect on the importance of well being in our personal and our professional lives. 

Kendra:             Yeah, I mean, I think that from - so I've been practicing for 15 years now. And when I was, I wasn't hearing much about mental health or wellness in my first few years of practice. So I mean, that's the first thing as well, I think. We would always hear about balance, or the firms would tell us that they were wanting balance. But that's the that's the first thing I think is we need to send a message that we people don't need to be working so much. That for sure. Because then we're all going to burn out. 

Michele:           I was a partner in a great law firm, and was really, you know, sort of coming into my own as a lawyer. I was, I had a great client list, I had good relationships with my clients, I had really good work to do. And I love doing it. And so there was just nothing, when I looked at my life objectively, that could possibly explain what on earth was going wrong with me and making me feel so despairing and increasingly despairing.

Facilitator:        Legal Professionals sometimes have trouble finding balance. Work can take a heavy toll on our emotions, and our health, both physically and mentally. It can lead to stress, anxiety, burnout, and depression. Unfortunately, there is still some stigma associated with mental health issues within the legal profession. This often stops lawyers from seeking help.

Kendra:             So, grant Davis was a lawyer practicing family law up until he died in 2019. And he died of suicide. And so, you know, despite that, when Grant was alive, and when Grant was practicing law, he was a joy to all of us, everyone that knew him. He was one of my best friends, and we did yoga together, he ran, he had great relationships with other lawyers. And he, in my experience with him as friends, you know, he was very committed to his own mental health and his own growth. So it wasn't something that I expected, that he was struggling to the extent that he was. I think that a lot of us do struggle from time to time, and we'll talk about it and, but the extent that Grant talked about it, it wasn't something that I expected would end the way that it did.

Facilitator:        Kendra Goertzen, a Manitoba lawyer who practices in the area of family law and child protection in Winnipeg. Kendra is the inaugural recipient of the Grant Davis collegiality and well being award granted by the Manitoba branch of the CBA.

Kendra:             By offering varying options for how to, like various areas of mental health, that could help lawyers remember that they're all important. And it's not just say, going to the gym, because I think everyone's good at going to the gym, pretty much. You know, like, and this is, again, myself as well, like, sometimes I would sleep terribly for a whole year, or I'm always getting takeout or whatever. There's, like one of the classic examples that I use is there was one day that I went to a yoga class and it was a great class, whatever, but then at the end of the class, I had a fight with my sister-in-law in the parking lot. Like yelling, you know? And it's like, well, what value was that class when I just had that argument right after? So, yeah.

Facilitator:        Now, I think look, you know, in conversations I've had with, and the Conversations with the President podcast, but also call conversations I've had with members, I think everybody's got their different, well, both their different triggers, but also their different ways to kind of relax. And I think some of the things you've mentioned earlier, I think are good ones. And I think, you know, my two cents worth on this is people have to find what works for them. Right? You know, you've mentioned a bunch of times yoga, and stuff like that. I've been trying to do that, I just can't. I want to kind of just transition a bit to something else that you do, which is, you know, you volunteer. I understand that, you know, you're active in your community and volunteering on various causes. Can you give me a sense of why that's important to you?

Kendra:             The best thing that we can do is give of ourselves, right, without any kind of results, I guess. That would be my reason of doing these things is that when we show up and become available for other people, just for the sake of doing so, that's where the self esteem comes in. That's where the feelings of worth come in. But it's not something that I can describe other than you have to experience it to know. And that's why that becomes just as addicting as say, making money. Like if you do the right thing often enough, and you show up, and you know how it feels at the end. They always say in, like in 12 step, when you're sponsoring a person, it's not necessarily to keep that person sober. It's to keep yourself sober. Like you're doing it for your own, like, I mean, if you can keep them sober, great. But you do it because of the feeling that like it comes for you. 

Michele:           I had someone say to me in terms of networking one time, is it's not rocket science, go to everything. Just go to everything. And you know what? It's really not bad advice. Not everything is going to judge you. But a lot of stuff will and you'll make connections. And this is certainly what the CBA did for me, in part, was allow me to meet and get to know lawyers across the country, but also here in Calgary and in Alberta. And those lawyers, as we grew through the years and those relationships deepened, became very important sources, not just of work but of advice for me as I grew as a lawyer. So I can't say enough about the benefits to you, as an individual, of becoming involved in the legal community and in the broader community

Yves:                Hi there CBA listeners. I'm Yves Faguy, Editor of CBA National Magazine and host of the Modern Law podcast where we talk with the best legal minds about fundamental shifts in the tech and socio economic landscape, and the ability of our laws to keep pace with change and all that it entails. Don't miss the latest episode of Modern Law by subscribing on your favourite streaming platform.

Recording:        This is Conversations with the President presented by the Canadian Bar Association.

Facilitator:        To mark mental health week I'd like to take a look back at some of the most inspiring moments in my Conversations with the President podcast series. Throughout the series, I've welcomed some very courageous members of the legal profession who have understood how important it is to speak up on issues of mental health as the taboos, prejudice and misconceptions surrounding mental health seem to be some of the most tenacious in our society.

Michele:           I, who had been, you know, one of the predominant social butterflies in the organization, I think, didn't want to do anything. I didn't, I started making excuses not to be at social events. I didn't want to be with my friends, I didn't return phone calls. And it just got worse and worse and worse. And of course, relatively quickly began to affect my ability to work. I remember standing at an elevator bank with Terry Evenson, our then Executive Director of the Alberta branch, on our way from one social thing to another. I was on the branch executive at that time. And she came up to me and said, are you OK? And I just lost it. Just burst into tears. And she said, OK, well, no need to answer. You're not OK. I can see that. But I want to talk to you about getting some help. 

I did reach out and because it wasn't, for me, it wasn't so much like, oh, you know, at least to that point, I should be able to fix this myself. Those were all my initial thoughts were, you know, first of all, nothing is wrong with you, smarten up. Secondly, you should be able to reason your way out of this. And thirdly, well just, you know, fix it, you know, just fix it. That's what we do. We're lawyers. We fix things. So I went through all of those phases. And it wasn't until I went to a counsellor, to a psychologist. And I remember my first appointment with her. I walked in, and she asked me my name, presumably just to check and make sure that I was the appointment she had. And I said my name and that was it, I started crying, and I cried through the entire hour.

Facilitator:        Madame Justice, Michele Hollins, appointed to the court of Queen's Bench in Calgary, Alberta, in 2017. In 2014, 2015, she was the National President of the Canadian Bar Association. She was appointed Queen's Counsel in 2008. For many years now, she's been open about her struggles with depression, and takes every opportunity she has to discuss the importance of mental health for legal professionals.

Michele:           I think for lawyers, one of the things that we all need to recognize, whether you suffer from depression or are prone to it or not, is that the profession is enormously stressful. It's just in the nature of what we do and how we do it. And, you know, so not only to cut yourself some slack, and to be very mindful of your mental health, but for those around you, too. I mean, it is just not an easy job. It's not intended to be easy. And you know, when you've got a ton of work on your desk, then your stress is driven by deadlines and client expectations, and how is this work going to get done? And if you don't have enough work on your desk, then it's worse. Because, you know, then you experience this, you know, kind of horrible, sinking, job insecurity, that I think can be enormously damaging. 

And so, lawyers at all stages of their careers may be prone to those feelings. I particularly have concern for young lawyers. You know, when I think about my situation, I was a partner in my law firm, I was extremely well supported. And it wasn't that there weren't ramifications for me financially, but those were all manageable. The most important thing was that I had partners who were willing to try to understand what I was going through, and they were willing to do the most important thing, I think, which is, we will not abandon you, we will not run away from you. We are there.

Caitlin:             I think find your people and having, I have a group of lawyer pals who are around my year of call, we all kind of came out together. And having them as support has been such an immense, you know, benefit.

Facilitator:        You know, I just want to take this opportunity to say that the CBA also has put on its website, various resources, the wellness subcommittee, we have a wellness hour, which is available, as well as the Dear Abby column.

Caitlin:             I think of, you know, Cindy Blackstock and I think of, actually, a lot of the incredible activists who I've met on the ground, the folks who were advocating against Muskrat Falls, these Indigenous women in Labrador who were fighting for clean water and for not having methyl mercury poisoning in, you know, in their country foods. And the immense passion that they bring to their advocacy, their commitment that's beyond just their own well being, it's for their families, it's for their grandchildren, it's for the next generations. How will they live? And that they're willing to bear the burden and go to jail in order to make right or to try to protect that I think is just, I find so inspiring. So I think it's, I draw my inspiration kind of broadly, but there's a lot of really strong women who, you know, who I think I look up to and try to, you know, hope one day that I'll have, you know, have a storied career like them.

Facilitator:        Caitlin Urquhart, dedicated Newfoundland and Labrador community builder and ecological advocate. Caitlin is this year's recipient of the Douglas Miller Rising Star Award. She recently stepped away from her role as a staff lawyer with EcoJustice to take on the position as Junior Commission Counsel for the inquiry into the treatment, experience and outcome of [unintelligible 00:14:33] in the child protection system.

Caitlin:             For myself, I mean, I try to, I try, I look at, honestly I look at like Fridays for Future and I look at young people and their passion and their, you know, commitment to justice. And I just find that really inspiring and it makes me feel hopeful that I think, you know, that the world, you know, we're going to be OK, I think, when I look to the next generation. And then in terms of, so I guess, trying to find optimism and hopefulness and gratitude. I know that sounds really cheesy, but I do find sometimes you just need to say, OK, what's going on in my life that I'm really grateful for? And where can I find my peace of happiness? Because there is so much challenging going on in the world. 

And then, honestly, then I fight, right? I think you go, there's all these things going wrong in the world, and how can I make it better? Like what can I do? What personal, what actions can I take to disrupt these systems, to reduce harm, to support community? Just trying to kind of find a place for an outlet for that so it doesn't become despair, right? You kind of turn that sadness and anger into some action. And I think that often that's, you know, their kind of new term is, you know, community care and your - but I do find that actually really rejuvenating and rewarding, and that charges my battery.

Michele:           It is really important that we don't forget where we are, the world in which we live, and all of the people that are crossing our paths every day that are living very different lives. And so, you know, I've heard it said that one of the most important things you can do to help yourself when you are struggling, is to express gratitude. And I do think that is really important. And if you need to figure out where to find some gratitude, you know, then go to some of these organizations that need your help and throw yourself into a pro bono file and really, you know, try to understand how the law intersects with people's everyday lives. And you know, that will give you, I think that will give you the perspective that may assist you in getting sort of outside yourself a bit.

Recording:        This is Conversations with the President, presented by the Canadian Bar Association.

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