Q. Is it normal to feel so isolated?
A. Yes. Ascending to the bench necessitates a smaller professional and personal world to avoid the appearance of conflicts. Often successful lawyers have a large network of colleagues and acquaintances which is further fueled by frequent networking functions. These can dramatically decrease upon taking the bench. It can appear that the world has "shrunk" causing a feeling of being left out or isolation.
Q. When is there a problem?
A. Early warning signs of an impairment issue include frequent tardiness, uncharacteristic behavior, failure to maintain judicial temperament, excessive forgetfulness, sleeping on the bench, unusual difficulty reaching decisions and expressions of concerns from a variety of sources including other judges, clerks, attorneys or family members.
Q. When should I seek help?
A. When a judge is unable to adequately respond to the routine stressors of the bench, help is needed. Any condition, problem or situation that impairs a judge's ability to carry out necessary job functions or that pose a challenge to physical or emotional help should never be ignored. Often, there are relatively simply solutions to problems while others need the help of a qualified medical or mental health provider to resolve.
Q. What could be the cause of an impairment?
A. Physical, mental or emotional problems can cause impairment. These can be substance misuse, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, gambling, cognitive decline, rapid aging, medical problems, grief or family strife. These do not need to occur in isolation, but often are interrelated to create an overall situation where competently performing judicial functions becomes difficult.
Q. Is "burnout" an occupational hazard of a judicial career?
A. Yes, it certainly can be. Every judge resolve cases where an individual, a family or an entire community is impacted. Public scrutiny and comment of these decisions increases the associated stress. Judges, particularly in family and criminal law, can suffer from vicarious trauma from learning details of horrific accounts of neglect, abuse, rape and murder. Adding to the stress is the appellate process by which every decision can be second guessed and publicly reversed. Burnout, a specific form of workplace stress stemming from large workload, feelings of lack of control and lack of appreciation, is a frequent and debilitating hazard of a judicial career.
Q. What is the difference between normal aging and a potential impairment problem?
A. Normal again includes those "senior moments" that we can joke about but are transitory like misplacing keys, temporarily searching for the right word or forgetting a name of an acquaintance.
Impairment from aging or cognitive decline includes:
Problems performing daily tasks on a consistent basis
Trouble recalling the right words or repeating one's self during a conversation
Forgetting the names of close colleagues, friends or family members
Misplacing an object and then not identifying that object as their own (Example: misplacing glasses and then not recognizing those glasses as their own or that they even need glasses at all.)
Q. Is there local help available?
A. The New Hampshire Lawyers Assistance Program is available for free, confidential help and support for judges throughout New Hampshire. By virtue of NH Supreme Court Rule 58, all contact with NHLAP is strictly confidential. There is no need to worry that members of the bar, judicial oversight or family members will know that help is sought or treatment obtained. 1-877-224-6060
Q. Is there a confidential Helpline?
A. The ABA maintains a free, confidential judicial helpline where judges volunteer to be a personal resource to other judges throughout the United States and Canada. This line is confidential by law and available weekdays, during business hours Central time. 1-800-219-6474
Q. Are there specific written resources for judges?
A. Judges Helping Judges: The Judicial Assistance Initiative Resources & Education is available on line and downloadable in PDF or can be ordered in book form by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP). This is a comprehensive publication to effectively assist judges who may be depressed, misusing substances or have other mental health issues that impair judicial performance.