We all know what to do – just do it!
By Caroline Nevin
No-one has yet given us a name, but I belong to a small, time-specific demographic segment of the population; let’s call us Gen A. We were adults at the time that a death sentence called AIDS was first declared upon people we cared about, their partners and families. There was no reprieve, no treatment and no cure. Our social circles had empty seats and our celebrations had ghosts among us. Time has worked miracles in terms of preventative lessons and life-extending medications, and those early days now seem very far away.
So why bring it up now? Perhaps, like other Gen A’s, I feel compelled to speak up in the face of unnecessary and preventable suffering. When it comes to the legal profession, there is much that can be done – individually and collectively – to prevent many illnesses and deaths.
All of us know that the lawyer population is “aging.” Thirty seven per cent of B.C. lawyers are between 50 and 65 years old, and another 700 are even older. Many key diseases show up after 50. If there was a single action that could be done to prevent unnecessary deaths among lawyers, it would be mandatory participation in readily available screening programs: for men, an annual prostate check-up; for women, an annual PAP smear, regular breast self-checking and mammograms; and for both men and women, colon cancer checks.
Prostate cancer is a particular concern because more than three-quarters of lawyers older than 50 are men, and one in six will be diagnosed with it in their lifetime. It’s one of the amazing facts of modern medicine that if prostate cancer is caught early enough, there is a 90 per cent chance of a cure. And catching it is easy – so long as you turn up at your physician’s office and get a check-up. Men are notoriously bad at taking that simple step (I’m not making this up; research proves it).
Another “killer” in the profession is mental illness. Life in law is often described as stressful. Stress in and of itself is not always bad; we perform at our best when we are focused, alert and yes, somewhat stressed. But after genetic factors, prolonged stress and a lack of self-care (they often go together) are the most dangerous threats to mental health. The statistics are profound: lawyers are twice as likely as the general population to be dealing with addiction, more than 3.5 times more likely to suffer from depression, and more than twice as likely to commit suicide. Many of us know exceptionally gifted colleagues, like Rob Gourlay and others, who have struggled with these silent illnesses. If you need help, lawyer-friendly services are easily available through LAP, Interlock and other providers. Reaching out is the single most important preventative step anyone can take.
Cardiovascular problems – which are also exacerbated by stress and poor self-care – are second only to cancer as the leading cause of death in B.C. This is where even young lawyers should pay particular attention. Your heart and cardio tissue rarely break down suddenly; your choices now about diet, lifestyle and exercise really do either help prevent or guarantee problems later.
Gen A’s are not doomsayers; in fact, we are optimists. We believe that smart people armed with good information will make good choices. The problem is that lawyers are not your average “smart people.” There is an essential but deadly instinct in all of you to look after others before yourselves. But if we are to survive to do our part to make a difference in the world, every lawyer – and law firm – has to commit to taking action to prevent illness and promote wellness. Take it from those of us who lived through a time when prevention education came too late.
This article was published in the August 2010 issue of BarTalk. © 2010 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.