Courtney R. Holthus
Published November/December 2021
On October 31, 2016, the Diversity Section and the Idaho State Bar lost one of its promising members, Jennifer King, to suicide. As the fifth anniversary of her passing approaches, I wanted to take this opportunity on behalf of the Diversity Section to honor her by sharing information and resources to help those who may be feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, depressed, or even in crisis as we continue to trudge through life in the midst of COVID-19.
Jennifer was an active member of the Diversity Section and our Love the Law! Program. I will always remember her sweet, kind demeanor and warm smile. I wouldn’t say we were close friends, but we would see each other numerous times throughout the year. Each time we would talk about our jobs, our career aspirations, and our personal and professional struggles. I distinctly remember her telling me why she wanted to be lawyer: because she wanted to help and serve others. She had a big heart and truly valued our Section’s mission to promote inclusivity and equality in the law.
I think back often to our last interactions. I’ve read and re-read the last email correspondence we had. I honestly had no idea that she was depressed, let alone to the point of taking her own life. I will always wish I could have done something to help her, which is why I have decided to write this article. Perhaps the following information, the organizations, the phone numbers, may help someone else who is struggling during this time.
According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Idaho had the fifth highest suicide rate in the United States in 2018.
While Idaho’s suicide rate dropped in 2019, it rose again in 2020, with preliminary reports indicating that approximately 427 Idahoans were lost to suicide last year. COVID-19 has certainly taken its toll. Data collected by Mental Health America in its 2021 The State of Mental Health in America report found that more people are reporting frequent thoughts of suicide and self-harm than ever before in their screenings, as the number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression has “skyrocketed.” Our young people are struggling too—the report stated that “throughout the COVID-19 pandemic youth ages 11-17 have been more likely than any other age group to score for moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.”
I work for a public interest law firm that serves Idahoans with disabilities, including those with mental illness, and I can personally attest to the fact that many of those who are calling our office looking for legal and advocacy assistance are in crisis. In this past year alone, I have had to assess more calls where an individual has threatened suicide than in all of my nine and a half years of employment at DisAbility Rights Idaho combined.
Even if by some miracle, you have managed to survive this past year unscathed by the uncertainty, isolation, and stress that COVID-19 has created, chances are the co-workers in your firm, opposing counsel, or even the clients you serve have not fared as well. As these difficult times continue, many of us may find ourselves susceptible to vicarious or secondary trauma or compassion fatigue. Such conditions resemble post-traumatic stress disorder and can be “caused by being indirectly exposed to someone else’s trauma.” You should note that direct exposure to clients experiencing trauma is not the only way to be affected by secondary trauma. It can also develop from listening to others recount a traumatic event or working with others who are dealing with secondary trauma.
On a positive note, there are multiple resources available – many of which are free of charge – to assist you, your coworkers, and your employees in combating the effects that the trauma events surrounding us may have. The Idaho State Bar has an entire webpage dedicated to attorney well-being and has established an Attorney Well-Being Task Force to help the legal profession in Idaho. The website features a list of resources including educational courses, toolkits, websites, articles, blogs, reports, and even podcasts to help you in improving your well-being and developing a more trauma responsive practice. Organizations such as the National Center on Law and Elder Rights (NCLER) and the Tahirih Justice Center have also developed materials specific to trauma-informed lawyering, including best practices for adapting trauma-informed lawyering during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the list is not exhaustive, in the following you will find multiple resources to help those who may be struggling or on the verge of a mental health crisis. Right now, as you read these words, there are clients, colleagues, friends, and family who may need this information. You may even need this information. Please share this information with those you think may need it. Reach out. Check in with those you have not been in contact with for a while. Use these resources if you need them. Just please, please do not give up. There is hope and there is help.
Idaho State Bar Attorney Well-Being Resources & Task Force https://isb.idaho.gov/member-services/programs-resources/attorney-well-being-resources/ Idaho Lawyer Assistance Program Call: (208) 891-4726 24-Hour Hotline: (866) 460-9014 https://isb.idaho.gov/member-services/programs-resources/lap/ Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline Call: (800) 273-8255 Text: (208) 398-4357 https://www.idahosuicideprevention.org/ National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call: 1-800-273-8255 https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ Lifeline Chat https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/ En español: 1-888-628-9454 COVID Help Now Line Call or Text (986) 867 – 1073 Toll Free (866) 947 – 5186 https://ioem.idaho.gov/covidhelpnow/ If you are aware of an individual with a disability who may need legal or advocacy assistance, please have them call DRI at 1-800-632-5125 or visit www.disabilityrightsidaho.org.
Courtney R. Holthus is an attorney as well as the Director of Legal and Advocacy Services with DisAbility Rights Idaho (DRI), supervising the attorney and non-attorney advocates within the Youth and Adult Units at DRI. Courtney completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and graduated with her law degree from the University of South Dakota.
 Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Suicide Prevention, available at https://healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/services-programs/behavioral-health/about-suicide-prevention.
 Rachel Cohen, Idaho’s Suicide Rate Dropped in the Year Before the Pandemic, Boise State Public Radio, (March 1, 2021, 6:13 AM), available at https://www.boisestatepublicradio.org/news/2021-03-01/idahos-suicide-rate-dropped-in-the-year-before-the-pandemic#stream/0.
 Get Healthy Idaho, Suicide Deaths That Occurred in Idaho, Published July 29, 2021, available at https://www.gethealthy.dhw.idaho.gov/idaho-vdrs.
 Mental Health America, 2021 The State of Mental Health America, available at https://mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america.
 American Bar Association, “Understanding Secondary Trauma: A Guide for Lawyers Working with Child Victims”, September 10, 2015, available at: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_interest/child_law/resources/child_law_practiceonline/child_law_practice/vol-34/september-2015/understanding-secondary-trauma–a-guide-for-lawyers-working-with/.
 Idaho State Bar, Attorney Well-Being Resources, available at https://isb.idaho.gov/member-services/programs-resources/attorney-well-being-resources/.
 National Center on Law & Elder Rights, Trauma-Informed Lawyering, available at https://ncler.acl.gov/Files/Trauma-Informed-Lawyering.aspx.
 Tahirih Justice Center, A Guide – Adapting Trauma-Informed Lawyering Best Practices During the COVID-19 Pandemic, https://www.tahirih.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Pro-Bono-Guidance-COVID-19_V3.pdf.
 Disability Rights Idaho (DRI) is the Protection and Advocacy System for the State of Idaho. This article was made possible by funding support from SAMHSA, U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services and DOE-Rehabilitation Services Administration. These contents are solely the responsibility of DRI and does not represent the official views of any federal grantor. 100% of this article was paid for with federal funds.