By: Laurie Larson, Paralegal, JLongtin Law
It seems that we have been hearing a lot about mental health concerns on the news lately. During the long months of COVID-isolation, many people developed symptoms of depression and anxiety, and found themselves needing professional help for the first time in their lives. All our lives have been touched by COVID-19 in some way either though contracting the virus, losing a loved one to covid, losing a job or home, or just having to breathe through cloth when around others, reminding us of our inherent vulnerability. We soon came to experience “pandemic fatigue” in our own ways, but together.
This life-defining experience we have come to share has been devastating for many of us. However, the common experience of fear, frustration, anger, sadness, lack of motivation, and emotional exhaustion seemed to allow many of us to connect in a way not felt prior to COVID-19. So many more people have a better understanding about what it means to struggle with their mental health.
I wonder what this might mean for our clients who struggle with mental illness. Since my area of specialty is mitigation, I spend a lot of time getting to know clients and writing about how their lives have been affected by the symptoms of their disorders. I listen to their stories, review their records that describe such pain and struggle, and read about studies conducted by mental health experts, studies that describe the ways in which mental illness affects the brain. I use this information to write reports about our clients and hope that I have done so in a way that will provide the prosecutor with an accurate picture of a human being who deserves compassion.
Sometimes the attorney on the case is able to use the mitigation report during the negotiation process with the prosecutor. This report can help convince the prosecutor to reduce someone’s charges, lessen someone’s sentence, or transfer the case to a special problem-solving court, like Veterans Court, where the goal is to provide intensive supervision and mental health and/or substance abuse treatment. When this happens, I feel like I have done my job. I feel connected to a process that contains hope in a system that can be so punitive. It is a process that allows everyone involved, parties on both sides of a case, to provide a solution based on our shared humanity. I
COVID-19 has been particularly difficult for those who were struggling with mental illness prior to the pandemic. This includes many of our clients. Perhaps the greater understanding our culture now has for the value of mental health, and the challenges mental illness pose, will continue to benefit us all in the future.