#StigmaFreeYLD Campaign

Learn More Michele Rayner-Goolsby “I thought my life was over.” When Michele didn’t pass the bar exam on her first try, she thought her life was over. Learn how Michele got back on her feet through therapy, yoga, and positive affirmations to pass the bar exam and build an exceptional and fulfilling life and law practice. Learn More Danielle Dudai “I felt trapped and wanted to leave the profession.” After trying over 50 jury trials and years of prosecuting sex trafficking cases, Danielle was ready to transition to private practice but she was met with a terrible stigma in the legal profession: that government lawyers’ skills and work ethics don’t cut it in private practice. Learn how Danielle overcome the mental and physical pain caused by this unfair stigma, and how she’s paving the way for other government lawyers through her hard work, support system, and the support of The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division. Learn More Javier Lopez “I was in a very, very dark place.” After Javier’s father passed away following a difficult battle with cancer, he felt lost, angry, depressed, and confused. When he later lost his nephew, Javier felt the full force of his clinical depression. Learn how Javier faced these struggles and sought the help he needed through the support of his colleagues, family, and therapist. Learn More Senator Rouson “The faster I chased success, the more I came to rely on alcohol to numb the fear.” When alcohol no longer worked to deaden his anxiety, Darryl turned to drugs as a way to answer his inner demons. Learn how Darryl Rouson walked the path of recovery to overcome his addiction, develop a successful legal career, and became an elected member of the Florida Senate representing the 19th District. Learn More Wayne LaRue Smith “You will never be a lawyer.” When the Arizona Bar told Wayne he would never practice law as the result of his cocaine addiction, he knew he had hit rock bottom. After contemplating suicide, Wayne moved to Florida where he committed to turning his life around. Learn how Wayne overcame his addiction and built a successful practice with the help of The Florida Lawyers Assistance Program. Learn More Ron Ponzoli “Now that I am healthy, I’m living my best life.” Ron suffered from depression and anxiety. Every part of his life was impacted by his emotional struggles that resulted in immense feelings of sadness, anger, and fears. Once crisis hit, he knew he needed professional help. Learn how Ron vastly improved his personal and professional life through yoga, meditation, exercise, and therapy. Learn More Hillary Cassel “There had to be a better way to live and work.” Four years into her legal career, Hillary was diagnosed with Bipolar II and depression. She was terrified that someone might learn of her diagnosis and find her unfit for the practice of law. Learn how she managed her mental illness and built a wildly successful career through meditation, exercise, therapy, and journaling. Read Florida Bar Article

Let’s Break the Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness

Now more than ever, attorneys are facing challenges with stress, anxiety, and mental illness – and this struggle all too often results in substance abuse, depression, or even suicide. To make matters worse, attorneys feel like they are unable to talk about mental illness as it will be seen as a sign of weakness. Indeed, there is a stigma surrounding mental illness that clients will not hire you, that opposing counsel will take advantage of you, or that The Florida Bar will find you unfit to practice law. This stigma ends now.

The YLD is proud to launch the #StigmaFreeYLD initiative to help end the stigma over mental health and illness in our profession. Through this initiative, we aim to demonstrate that dealing with mental illness is not a weakness, but a sign of strength. That by embracing your reality and dealing it, you can better understand how stress, anxiety, and mental illness may be affecting your practice and your life. We will also provide resources that you can use to meet and overcome these challenges.

Below you will find attorneys just like you who have struggled with mental illness but have built wildly successful practices and found true enjoyment in their lives by taking action and seeking help. We believe that by opening up the discussion, we can work together to break the stigma over mental illness in our profession, lift each other up, and help more young lawyers reach fulfillment and satisfaction in their practice. We invite you to click on each attorney’s biography to watch their story, and encourage you to share your stories on social media by using the hashtag #StigmaFreeYLD.

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