Most lawyers who are depressed have a hard time being productive. Work—and here I mean everything from preparing for depositions to arguing a motion in court to the kinds of “work” we assign ourselves, like reading a good book or planting a garden—is a chore to the depressed. It drains us, leaves us feeling as bad as before, physically worn out and emotionally depleted, instead of proud of ourselves and invigorated. Other people with depression seem to work very hard all the time, but there is little payoff for their efforts. As with so much of depression, there is a real chicken-or-egg question—is work so difficult because we’re depressed, or are we depressed in part because we can’t accomplish anything? And as with so many chicken-or-egg situations, we face a false dichotomy: the truth is, poor work habits and depression reinforce each other.
Dr. Carrie Barron, a board-certified psychiatrist/psychoanalyst on the clinical faculty of the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons who also has a private practice in New York City. She has published in peer-reviewed journals, won several academic awards, and presented original works related to creativity and self-expression at national meetings of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Along with her husband, Alton Barron, M.D., a hand and shoulder surgeon, she co-authored the book, The Creativity Cure: How to Build Happiness with Your Own Two Hands.
Why is depression such a problem in our culture?
I think the level of stress has gone up enormously because we have so much to do and we’re on twenty-four hours a day. So I think because of technology, which offers us so many great things, but gives us much to do. I think that’s part of it. I also think, especially for children, we’re in a striving, ambitious, be productive all the time mentality – for children and adults. We need to play, we need to hangout, we need to have spontaneous time. I think spontaneous thought does a lot for alleviating depression and anxiety.
If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or a bit tired during what can be the commercial lunacy of the holidays, gratefulness can put the jumper cables to your soul.
We need to swim against the flow of noise, overeating, and buying and giving stuff, to find gratefulness. But it’s worth the effort, really.
He says it is the opportunity that life affords each of us to be grateful that counts. Brother David nailed it when he says that it is not the happiest people that are grateful. Too often people who are given everything are unhappy because the want more of what they’ve been given or something else. He says it is the grateful people that are truly happy.
I started a lawyer depression support group ten years ago. It’s one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done. We started out with ten people. It met once a month. Over time, it evolved into every other week. We now gather once a week. I’ve been asked many times about how to start a group. Here are a few pointers to help you get going. They’re in no particular order of importance.
- Be clear about what a support group is
A peer support group is a regular gathering of folks suffering from depression who share their struggles with fellow sufferers to gain insight, strength and hope. These meetings are less structured and more open-ended and the content doesn’t come from a mental health professional. In contrast, group therapy is more structured, focused on teaching, and has a clear outcome that the group is trying to reach. They’re led by a therapist. Since about 60% percent of those with depression also struggle with anxiety, it is likely that members will like to discuss both issues amongst themselves.
The daylight is shrinking. As I drive home at night, it’s as if nature is slowly pushing down on the dimmer switch with each passing day.
Usually, this time of year is a drag for me. Metabolism becomes more slothful, my brain a bit foggier. Diet changes. I go from slurpy gazpacho in the summer to the thick stews that made up Buffalo’s winter cuisine. Activity level tanks. Time on the elliptical replaced by sprawling on the couch.
I guess some would call it Seasonal Affective Disorder. I hate that term. We seem to pathologize everything these days. So what if I tend to be a bit sadder, a tad more slothful. Is that a “disorder?” I think not.
Something seems better this year, however. It’s pretty clear that the more I sleep, the better I feel. Summer meant seven hours of sleep; now I’m clocking nine. I go to bed earlier, but wake up feeling fresher, and mentally sharper without the gloom of depression.
The following is an edited transcript of the podcast recorded interview with Dr. Alex Korb.
Hi, I’m Dan Lukasik from lawyerswithdepression.com. Today’s guest is Dr. Alex Korb. Dr. Korb is a neuroscientist, writer, and coach. He’s studied the brain for over fifteen years, attending Brown University as an undergraduate and earning his Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA. He has over a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles on depression and is also the author of the book, The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression One Small Change at a Time. Interesting, he’s also coached the UCLA Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team for twelve seasons and is a three-time winner for Ultimate Coach of the Year. His expertise extends into leadership and motivation, stress and anxiety, mindfulness, physical fitness, and even standup comedy. Welcome to the show.
The following blog was submitted by an anonymous lawyer.
Once upon a time, I was a trial attorney at a personal injury defense firm. I was good at it. I always pushed hard; always did the best job possible. I won a good share of cases, and, of course, lost a few as well. I was valued highly enough to be made a partner shortly after joining the firm.
But I had a dirty little secret. I had bipolar disorder, which was well-controlled through a close partnership with a good psychiatrist. Still, in my mind, if word ever got out, my employers would see me as weak, a liability. To a degree, I understood. If the insurance companies that paid the bills learned that one of the firm’s trial attorneys had such a condition, their mandate would be clear: if you want our business, get rid of him. That is what I assumed.
Throughout my career, colleagues would make offhanded remarks about someone “not taking his medication.” I would grit my teeth and ignore it.
Big law has a big problem.
The reality that lawyers suffer from high rates of mental health problems, addiction, and problem drinking can no longer be denied in light of the 2016 study conducted by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation which has a nationally renowned drug and alcohol treatment center.
A “National Task Force on Attorney Well-Being” was assembled following this study to make recommendations on what law schools, law firms, bar associations, and others, can do about these serious problems. I have read both the study, the task force’s report, and recent press reports coverage about how the recommendations of the task force are to be implemented.
To be frank, I am disappointed.
Today’s guest post is by Dr. Eve Wood, a psychiatrist who treats lawyers, judges, and law students dealing with depression, anxiety, burnout or extreme stress.
Do you find yourself wondering if you need to be on medications for depression, or hoping you can stop them? If so, you are not alone!
In 1980, Americans filled 30 million prescriptions for antidepressants, and in 2010, 30 years later, the number of prescriptions for antidepressants filled had risen to 264 million in a year!
Increasing numbers of attorneys are being diagnosed with and treated for depression. According to the 2017 report of the National Task for on Lawyer Well-Being, …of nearly 13,000 currently practicing lawyers…approximately 28 percent, 19 percent, and 23 percent are struggling with some level of depression, anxiety, and stress, respectively.
A year ago, I started to volunteer at a Church on the East Side of Buffalo, the poorest and most segregated section of town rife with a high crime rate, violence, drug trafficking, and prostitution. And right in the middle of it all is St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy.
St. Luke’s was an abandoned Catholic Church twenty-five years ago that had become empty and useless after the Polish immigrants who built it in 1930 left for the suburbs. Into this void cam Amy Betros, a big woman, with an even bigger smile and hug, who owned a restaurant where college students hung out. Amy decided, moved by something deep inside her, to chuck it all and do something for the poorest of the poor.
So, she sold her restaurant and together with a guy named Norm Paolini, bought the broken-down church. It quickly became a place where people could go to sleep on the church’s floor to get out of the elements and get some hot food. But just as important, that got some food for their souls. They got big servings of hope and seconds if they wished.
St. Luke’s has since grown into a huge community with an elementary school, a food and clothing shelter, and one of two “code blue” places where desperate street people can go to find warmth and a cot to sleep in the transformed for the emergency school cafeteria.