Breaking the Silence

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.

Natalie Cobb Koehler

Natalie Cobb Koehler is a 1999 graduate of Texas A&M University and a 2002 graduate of South Texas College of Law in Houston, Texas. She is currently in her second term as the elected County Attorney of Bosque County.

Natalie has been very involved in the State Bar of Texas, having served in 2011-12 as President of the Texas Young Lawyer's Association (TYLA). While serving as President of TYLA, she and her team developed a multi-media project entitled The Unconscious Truth: Legal and Physical Effects of Underage Binge Drinking. This project went on to win the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Outstanding Service Project and the American Bar Endowment Outstanding Public Service Project for 2011-12. Natalie has also served as a Trustee of the Texas Bar Foundation and a director of the State Bar of Texas.

In 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015, Natalie was named a Texas Super Lawyer's Rising Star in Family Law. She is also a member of the Class of 2014 of the Texas Lyceum, a public policy group that identifies the next generation of top leadership in the State of Texas.

Active in her local community, Natalie serves as Vice-President of the Meridian Public Library Board of Directors and as a director on the Central Texas Youth Fair Board. She is also currently serving as a Texas A&M Aggies in Agriculture Mentor and is a member of the Ft. Worth Stock Show and Rodeo “Guns and Roses Committee”.

In her spare time, Natalie enjoys traveling, cooking, helping her children show steers and heifers and volunteering at Camp John Marc, a camp for special needs children in Central Texas. She and her husband, Sean, are members of St. Olaf’s Lutheran Church and live on the family ranch in Cranfills Gap, Texas. They have two children, Case and Carson.

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  23. What a wonderful post! I work for Clarity Child a Guidance Center, the only nonprofit in all of South Texas that provides a continuum of mental health care to kids 3 to 17 years of age. More importantly to this conversation, we launched a campaign named One in Five Minds to end the stigma of mental illness and start the conversation. We would love to combine efforts. I can be reached at 210-582-6442 or at rebecca.helterbrand@claritycgc.org. Can we discuss how we can partner?

  24. I applaud TYLA’s and the TLAP’s attention to these issues. In my practice, my clients often battle a number of mental health conditions. However, I find it much more difficult to address the possibility when I’m dealing with a colleague, friend, or family member. Our society still places a huge stigma on those whose capacity to function is limited because of mental health issues. Even I am guilty of flippantly calling people “crazy” or “messed up” when I don’t want to deal with them.

    I think it’s important to keep reminding the legal community, ourselves included, that this can happen to anyone. We don’t have as much control over it as we often like to think. Depression isn’t a choice. And opening dialogue is only part of the battle.

    My first though while reading this is that it’s difficult to confront someone and tell them you’re concerned about their mental health. People are so private and most of us are really good at respecting the privacy of others. I wonder if there are resources to help coworkers prepare for those conversations. I don’t know of any. I think a culture of caring can help offset those barriers. Approach the person with offers to help and to listen. Think of their situation as temporary, that they will get back to being themselves.

    And shouldn’t we put more emphasis on preventative mental health care? Is therapy or counselling covered under the insurance of any of your firms? As an attorney at a non-profit, I feel like regular therapy sessions are cost prohibitive. What if someone who really needs those services feels the same way?

    It’s an imperfect system with much room for improvement. Thank you for broaching the subject!

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