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Resources to address judicial mental health

December 22, 2021

by Bill Raftery

The pandemic has spotlighted the need for mental health resources and their importance. Case in point, in November, California Superior Court Judge Tim Fall spoke to Kaiser Health News to discuss the pressures and challenges associated with the mental health of judges. In the article, Judge Fall described his own struggles and the tools he uses to address them. While stress and depression can affect individuals from all walks of life, a 2018 survey of U.S. state court judges found a link between stress and the judge’s perceptions of their mental health. A similar 2020 survey of state and federal judges found that judges most often expressed concerns about fatigue and low energy (38.8%), sleep disturbance (36%), and disturbed attention and concentration (32.3%) as the result of stress.

In January 2021, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) released Addressing the Mental Health and Well-Being of Judges and Court Employees, developed in collaboration with the National Judicial Task Force to Examine State Courts’ Response to Mental Illness. The information focuses on both general resources and provides state-specific initiatives, such as Colorado’s Task Force on Judicial Well-Being and the Florida Judicial Wellness Program.

Concerns over judicial stress and mental health were a key feature of other efforts by NCSC, along with the State Justice Institute, to address judicial well-being in their report, Elements of Judicial Excellence: A Framework to Support the Judicial Development of State Trial Courts. Relying on input from judges and experts, the report puts forth a framework for limiting sitting on the bench and addressing the stress of the position. The report notes managing judicial stress is not just the responsibility of the individual judge but requires a local court culture that supports the efforts necessary to develop and practice preventative and protective self-care. The court must support using vacation time, sick leave and encourage judges to seek assistance when their well-being is compromised.

The National Judicial Task Force has also prioritized the mental health and well-being of judges and court employees. Two efforts are underway to develop recommendations for the national court community: 1) Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts and New York Courts are working with One Mind at Work to identify useful strategies and resources; and 2) the Task Force is meeting with the Institute for Well-Being in Law (I-WIL) to explore opportunities to work together to improve the mental health and well-being of judges.

To share how you or your court are supporting mental health, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164. For more information on this or other topics impacting state courts, follow NCSC on FacebookTwitterInstagram, or Vimeo.