8 mental health red flags that judges need to understand
By Scott R. Mote, Esq., Executive Director of the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program
As a judge, you are likely to experience stress, sadness, empathy and many other emotions. It is normal to have emotions, but sometimes these feelings can get out of control and interfere with your mental well-being. Be aware of these eight red flags that can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
Sleeping too much or too little
The recommended amount of sleep per night is 7-9 hours. If you find yourself sleeping more than this or not getting enough sleep, this could be a red flag. Interrupted sleep can be a sign as well. This is when you fall asleep at a normal time, but wake up at different intervals throughout the night. You could wake up from disturbing dreams, wake up because you have anxious thoughts or you might be a very light sleeper.
Eating too much or too little
People deal with emotions in many different ways. One common way we do this is by eating too much or too little. Some find comfort in indulging in sweets and high-calorie treats when they are sad, lonely, or depressed. On the other hand, some find it difficult to eat when they are stressed. If you find yourself packing on the pounds or do not seem to have an appetite, this is a sign that you need to do a mental health check.
We all have days where we just want to be alone and rest. This is normal, but doing this too often because you have no desire to do anything else is a red flag. This can also happen when you are at work. Perhaps you go through the motions of getting up every day, getting ready for work, making the commute, and arriving at the courthouse. But once you get there, you have no desire to do your job. You feel anxious about sitting on the bench all day and going through the motions once again. You do not feel like being there. This happens to all of us, no matter what profession. But when it starts to interfere with your capabilities as a judge (making bad decisions, falling asleep, lashing out, zoning out), it is time to seek help.
Decrease in enjoyment
Maybe you still participate in your hobbies, but you do not feel joy as you once did. You might not feel the love when you are with your family or friends. You find it difficult to laugh, love, think, find joy. Maybe you like movies, music and golf, but you notice that in the past month or so, you have no interest in these activities. Having an apathy to things that once brought you joy is a red flag for a mental health disorder.
Once in a while, you might snap at others or become annoyed with people. We all do that. It does not mean we are depressed. It becomes concerning, though, when little things start to set you off, such as someone typing next to you, a loud conversation happening between court personnel, multiple phones ringing at once, an unexpected change in schedule, etc. When these little things start to make you feel irritated and you cannot cope, seek help.
Difficulty making decisions
When our emotions are overwhelmed and we do not know how to cope with them, it can affect our ability to make decisions, which can lead to making mistakes or calling in sick. Making decisions does not just occur on the bench. You make choices throughout the day, such as when you are driving (should I take a detour?), when you are making dinner (should I make the chicken or shrimp?), when you are scheduling your day (should I walk after work or go to the market?). When you find it is difficult or overwhelming to decide what to do, take a mental health break.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 20 percent of Americans with a mental health disorder also have a substance use disorder. This is called a dual diagnosis. A substance use disorder is when you use substances such as alcohol or drugs to cope with your feelings. When using substances begins to interfere with your daily activities, it is time to seek help.
Emotions can become so overwhelming that you start to have irrational thoughts, such as that you are not good enough, that you do not deserve to be a judge, that everyone else would be better off if you no longer existed. Seek immediate help if you have these thoughts. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline—800-273-8255—or call 911.
Where to get help
Sometimes it helps to talk to others who are in a similar situation as you. The Judicial Advisory Group (JAG) is a peer-based confidential assistance group that helps judges and magistrates with personal and professional issues. For more information, go to www.ohiolap.org/judges or call (800) 348-4343.