On the Showtime series Billions, which just finished its second successful season, Maggie Siff (well-known to fans of the series Mad Men for her role as department store head Rachel Menken) plays Wendy Rhoades, a psychiatrist and “in-house performance coach” who is on call for employees at a prominent Connecticut-based hedge fund called Axe Capital.
Employees at Axe Capital are encouraged to visit Dr. Rhoades to deal with any issues that may be holding them back, with no stigmas attached. Indeed, hedge fund chief Bobby Axelrod pays her very handsomely for her services, recognizing the importance of keeping his people sharp and focused.
A Pioneering Trend?
As reported today by Staci Zaretsky at Above The Law, some law firms have more or less adopted the Axe Capital model, offering the services of an in-house psychologist to all employees. For example, international firm Hogan & Lovells has provided the service as a component of its wellness program. The managing partner of the firm’s New York office describes the service as a “rousing success” in a place where “[t]he hours are long” and there is a desire to “do what we can to soften the blow.”
Jeena Cho, also writing today for Above The Law, reports that 28% of lawyers struggle with depression and feel “stigmatized,” with their depression often seen as a “personal failing.” About 21% are alcohol-dependent, with nearly equal percentages struggling with stress and anxiety. For these lawyers, Ms. Cho reports, admonitions to “quit whining” or stop drinking (and resume billing) will only “keep lawyers in the vicious cycle of mental illness.”
What do some other firms think about the Hogans & Lovells approach? Ms. Zaretsky reports that the global chairman of Dentons fears having on-site mental healthcare would only cause competitors to charge that “we have crazy lawyers.” Leaders at other major law firms stated in-house therapy is unnecessary, could raise privacy issues, or could “send the wrong message.”
But according to Ms. Cho, author of The Anxious Lawyer: An 8-Week Guide to a Joyful and Satisfying Law Practice Through Mindfulness and Meditation, seeing a therapist merely “acknowledge[s] that you are human” and subject to experiences that sometimes include mental health issues. She asks pointed questions to all law firm leaders: “As a law firm, don’t you want everyone to have mental, emotional, and physical health? Don’t you want to have productive members on your team? Is it really possible to have a firm that is servicing the clients optimally when a third of your workforce is struggling with mental-health issues?”
Indeed, putting aside the human (or so-called “touchy-feely”) dimension, if having the well-compensated Dr. Rhoades on call at Axe Capital helps make Bobby Axelrod more billions, could law firm leaders similarly justify bringing in on-site mental healthcare for the long-term bottom-line benefits alone?
A Suggestion from Ms. Cho, and the Takeaway
Regardless of what one’s employer offers or doesn’t offer in the way of mental healthcare, Ms. Cho acknowledges that many of us truly fear seeing a therapist. Nevertheless, she urges professionals to “do it anyway” because it doesn’t make one weak, doesn’t mean one has failed, and doesn’t mean one should leave his or her profession. Instead, it means one is human. In Ms. Cho’s own experience, seeking out a therapist “taught me to be gentler with myself” and “helped me to pay attention to my own well-being.”
For anyone working in a high-stress environment, the takeaway here is to step up for oneself and get the help one needs, despite what anyone else may think or say, and whether or not on-site services are available. Alternatively, if you see a colleague who may be in need, offer that colleague a friendly ear and suggest that he or she meet with a mental health professional.
It’s the human thing to do. (Or, for Bobby Axelrod, it’s a great way to make more money in the long run.)