On November 13, 2009, I was at a TYLA meeting in El Paso, when I received a shocking call from my legal assistant. She called to tell me that my good friend and colleague, Brad Newsome, had committed suicide. I could not believe it. Friendly, gregarious Brad who was loved by so many people in our county was gone.
In our small community, many of us knew Brad suffered from “migraines” and would often not come to work for several days at a time. However, we often chalked it up to him just taking a few days off from his extremely busy criminal defense practice. None of us imagined it was actually severe depression. In fact, I thought I was trained to be acutely aware of depression after my husband’s best friend also committed suicide in June of 2009. You would think that we could spot it, right???
Well, I missed the signs and so did lots of others. In fact, Brad and my husband’s best friend were two of the happiest people I knew. These two suicides hit me and my family and friends hard. When I became President of the Texas Young Lawyers Association in June of 2011, I knew that I wanted to dedicate an entire project to the issue of mental health.
The topic is not particularly one that people like to discuss among mixed company. In fact, I was finding that a lot of my friends did not like talking about it at all. Mental health is a confusing issue and intensely personal. Based on this fact, TYLA created “Breaking the Silence”. This project features a series of podcasts where lawyers can access information about many mental health topics in the privacy of their own homes. My hope in creating the project was that if only one lawyer logged on to the site and we were able to help them, the project was worth it. The podcasts include topics such as unemployment and its effect on mental health, depression, bi-polar disorder and many others.
The tragedy of Myron May, a 2009 Texas Tech Law graduate that opened fire on students last week at Florida State University, also hit close to home with many members of the TYLA family who knew and loved him. According to reports, Myron had been crying out for help for a months due to mental health issues and no assistance was given to him. TYLA’s brochure “Committed to Healing: Involuntary Commitment Procedures” created in 2007 provides an introduction to involuntary commitment proceedings in Texas courts, including possible signals of mental health issues, a discussion of involuntary commitment procedures, and a comparison of involuntary commitment and guardianship.
TYLA is not the only organization for lawyers addressing this issue. The State Bar’s Texas Lawyers Assistance Program is another helpful resource for attorneys to seek help for a multitude of issues, including substance abuse and mental health. The experienced and professional staff are available by phone and email to answer your questions about substance abuse, mental health and wellness issues. You can call TLAP at any time at 1-800-343-8527 and all calls are confidential.
I am proud of TYLA and the State Bar and its efforts to help those in our profession who are struggling. Only by continuing to openly discuss the issue of mental health can we truly help those around us who may be suffering in silence.