Depression – the hidden hazard
This article has been provided by LawCare – health support and advice for lawyers
The problem with a mental illness is that the suffering being endured cannot be seen from the outside. An arm or leg in plaster, a limp, a bandaged head, all evoke immediate sympathy and concern, but when someone is depressed, it can go completely unnoticed or, if symptoms are spotted, people can respond with an unhelpful attitude.
Given that depression is so prevalent in our society – the Information and Services division of the NHS has revealed that one in ten adults are now taking medication every day to combat depression – and particularly amongst the legal profession – John Hopkins University research has recorded that Lawyers top the list for depressive illness; 3.6 times more likely to suffer than the general population, with 1 in 3 lawyers suffering from clinical depression, alcohol addiction or drug abuse – it behoves all of us to try and understand more about depression.
Daniel Lukasik, an award winning New York lawyer, has very bravely written at length about his experience of depression in the ABA magazine, GP Solo. He has suffered from clinical depression for 7 years. Having always been a high-flying litigator, he found that the stress of his work turned into constant fear. He began feeling tired all the time, feeling utterly weighed down; could not sleep; over-ate; numbed himself with watching tv. “I felt sad all the time, with little apparent reason to feel that way: I had a wonderful wife and family and a great job at a good law firm”.
As Managing Partner of his firm, Daniel felt he had to tell his partners when he was diagnosed with clinical depression, yet he felt great reluctance to do so. “I was supposed to be a hero, a problem-solver who fixed other people’s lives. I wasn’t supposed to be the one with a problem”.
When he told his partners, one immediately responded angrily, saying that he had nothing to be depressed about and to take a holiday i.e. the “pull yourself together” response. The other said that even functioning below par he was still a better lawyer than anyone else in the firm i.e. the “you feeling so desperate is unnecessary and really isn’t important”, response. Both very common reactions to depression.
After trying several different medications, Daniels’ depression was brought under control. He feels it is still lurking just out of sight, but because of the drugs and positive changes he has made in his life, starting with recognising that the negative thoughts that he had were just the twisted thinking caused by the depression, he can keep it at bay. Depression can be a warning bell that your life is out of kilter and that changes need to be made to preserve your mental equilibrium. It takes work to recognise this and to do the self-analysis that identifies what needs to be changed, then plan and implement the changes, but without such steps, what goes around will just keep on coming around.
Symptoms of depression may include:-
- Feelings of hopelessness and / or inadequacy;
- Weight loss or weight gain;
- Loss of energy or motivation;
- Disturbed sleep;
- Poor concentration, indecisiveness;
- Irritability / anger;
- Social withdrawal;
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide.
If someone comes to you and says that they have been diagnosed with depression, hold off from the knee jerk reactions mentioned above. Accept that however unreasonable it may seem to you, to the person in front of you, the depression is very real and agonisingly painful. If they could “pull themselves together” and get rid of it, they would.
Firstly, listen to what they say and establish how they are feeling. Then ask what you can do to help them towards recovery. Encourage them, when they have started on that road, to look at what changes need to be made to their lifestyle, for example:
- working practises;
- finding support groups;
accepting that their illness is exactly that, and not some failing or weakness on their part and that given time, they will recover. Remember there, but for good fortune, go any of us.
And of course, don’t forget that LawCare is there to non-judgementally help and support the suffering lawyer, his / her family and colleagues on a free and confidential helpline, 9am to 7.30pm on weekdays and 10am to 4pm weekends and UK Bank Holidays, 365 days a year.
If you think you have, or someone close to you has, depression you can get more help from LawCare by calling 0800 279 6888.
or visit the LawCare web site at www.lawcare.org.uk