Shiny, Happy People

Early in January my spouse and I went on a winter vacation to the Caribbean. The charming island nation of Barbados was our destination for two weeks followed by a meeting in Quebec and a family visit in Ontario. Almost three weeks in total. Travelling from our home in Yukon made for a long journey that saw us pass through seven airports in six different cities: Whitehorse, Vancouver, Toronto, Quebec City, Windsor and Bridgetown (Barbados). The highlight of our trip was certainly the place where it was light by 6 am with shorts and t-shirt weather right off the bat to start the day and a virtual guarantee of 28-29 degree temperatures.

In almost every Canadian airport we saw crowds of shiny, happy people who were either on their way to or just back from a hot destination. Those who were enroute to a southern destination looked so happy and so full of anticipation dressed in summer clothes and covered in sun screen. The folks who had just come from the heat almost invariably looked tanned and relaxed sporting sandals and shorts even though they had just returned to a Canada in January. But they all had one thing in common: they’d eventually end up back in winter.

All of this made me think how lucky we were to be part of this temporary migration south with its promise of rest, relaxation, rejuvenation, warm water and only one layer of clothes. I wondered to myself if this all it takes to keep a Canadian happy in the winter where shorter days and cooler, if not outright frigid, weather prevails for months on end (even for those apparently happy folks who live in the Lower Mainland of BC ). Physiologically and psychologically speaking, does two weeks with a heavy dose of Vitamin D in some tropical locale get us through and over the winter “hump” month that is January? I don’t know the answer to that question, but as Annie Proulx has written, “By January it has always been winter.”

I was pretty happy back in Whitehorse even with colder temperatures, almost constant cloud and as little as 5 hours of daylight. After all, most lawyers, no matter where we live, are surrounded by healthy distractions like work, family, friends, recreation and community activities. But it’s not that easy for everyone. A Canadian winter with its cold and darkness can be very challenging for the psyche even though our rational mind may tell us “I can get through this”.

But if you are struggling to “get through” (or know a lawyer that is), there’s help from the CBA’s recently launched “Mental Health and Wellness in the Legal Profession”. It is a national self-learning program designed to provide Canadian lawyers, judges and law students education, supports and resources to assist them in understanding mental health and addiction issues. This program provides knowledge about mood disorders, causes, symptoms and treatment options, fostering positive prevention strategies, treatment and recovery strategies for depression, anxiety, addiction and stress, reducing stigmatizing behaviours, attitudes and effects, and offering support and resources for recovery and the maintenance of wellness. All of this is specifically formulated and tailored to the needs and issues facing legal professionals and their families.

So, thanks to the partnership between CBA Wellness, the Mood Disorders Society of Canada and Bell Let’s Talk, along with financial support from a number of law societies across Canada, there’s a great mental health toolkit to help lawyers who struggle with the winter blues or need help any time of year with mental health issues.

Tom Ullyett, Past President, CBA Wellness

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