Being an attorney is stressful and legal professionals are more prone to suicide, alcohol abuse and anxiety than many in other careers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.

Anxiety, suicide, substance abuse and depression are among the issues the Florida Bar aims to tackle at a town hall discussion Friday. The meeting is at 11:45 a.m. at The Wooly and will include multiple speakers, including the Florida Bar’s president, Michael Higer.

The committee's mission for 2018 is to study the issue and get input from the community, Higer said. The goal is to create a comprehensive program that can assist Florida Bar members with a variety of health and wellness issues.

“We’re soliciting the recommendations and advice of our colleagues so the Florida Bar will know how to move forward in the future,” said Gainesville's Carl Schwait, a member of the bar's special committee on mental Health and wellness.

Lawyers face specific stresses in their professions that put them at a higher risk for mental health issues. For example, “the 24/7 nature of the adversarial system is unique to lawyers. Every single day there’s a winner and a loser,” Higer said. Legal practitioners have to struggle with trials in their personal lives and in their clients’ lives while remaining professional and knowledgeable.

Higer said that the bar has been effective at addressing mental health issues when they come to light, usually after an incident or disciplinary action. This is the bar’s attempt in dealing proactively with mental health. The committee will focus on education, destimitization and implementation of resources. The goal is to help the legal community realize their stressors and cope with them in a healthy way.

Legal practitioners may want to believe that they are invincible, or at least have the world perceive them as such, said Higer. This helps to create a stigma surrounding mental health care that discourages people from finding the help they need. Higer plans to address this issue at Friday’s meeting.

“I’m going to essentially make the case that lawyers need help and that there’s a problem to begin with,” he said.

Schwait is excited that the Florida Bar is hosting a meeting in Gainesville. He said legal practitioners in smaller cities have a unique perspective and experience different problems than lawyers in large urban centers.

“The Eighth Judicial Circuit is made up primarily of single practitioners, and small law firms and government lawyers who often have fewer resources,” he said.

Though the committee is still in its early stage, its members hope to implement a 24/7 resource line and provide counseling services and education courses for bar members.

“Mission one is to maximize our efforts to make sure that our lawyers are better able to protect the public that we serve,” Higer said.

Friday’s meeting is open to everyone, including law students, another group the Florida Bar would like to help. Schwait is currently working with UF’s law school to organize a mental health fair on April 10.

“The Florida Bar is beginning to evolve into an organization that says, ‘What can we do for you to make you better lawyers and better counselors to your clients?’” he said.