Slogging Through the Swamp of Lawyer Depression With Dr. James Hollis

Here is my fascinating interview with Dr. James Hollis, psychoanalyst and author of several best-selling books including “Swampland of the Soul” and “What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life.”

Dan:  What is depression?

Jim:   I think first of all we have to differentiate between depressions because it‘s a blanket term which is used to describe many different experiences, different contexts and different internalized experiences of people.  First of all, there is the kind of depression that is driven by biological sources and it is still a mystery as to how that works.  We know it affects a certain number of people in profound ways.   Second, there is reactive depression which is the experience of a person who has suffered loss and as we invest energy in a relationship or a situation and for whatever reason, that other is taken away from us, that energy that was attached to him will invert as depression.  Reactive depression is actually normal.

You Can Recover From Depression

I am 57 years old. I am a lawyer. And I struggle with depression.

I was diagnosed when I turned forty.  I didn’t know what was happening to me. But I knew something was wrong. I was crying quite a bit.  My sleep became disrupted. It became difficult to concentrate.  I felt no joy in my life.

Ultimately, my family doctor diagnosed me with major depression and provided me with the help I needed. I started going to therapy and was put on anti-depressants. This saved my life.

Since being diagnosed all those years ago, I have learned to live with depression as have many of the 20 million people who are living with this illness right now in this country.

“Aren’t Your Meds Working?”

A friend I hadn’t seen in months bumped into me at Starbucks.

I’d been standing in line waiting for coffee.  There was a tap-tap on my shoulder. Turning around, I saw my friend, Brian, who, like me, had been a lawyer for over twenty-five years. 

Accomplished and well-connected, Brian had a quiet composure that appeared to follow him wherever he went. I liked him. You could look into his eyes.  And he would look attentively back.  He knew I had struggled with depression.

“How are you?” he said.

“Not so great,” I slumped.

One Trial Lawyer’s Tale: What Happens When Law Firms Don’t Talk About Mental Illness

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.

Why We Need to Talk About Lawyers’ Mental Health Now

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.

Now what?

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.

Breaking Mental Health Stigma With Workplace Programs

Daniel Lukasik, a longtime proponent of mental well being within the legal and greater Buffalo communities, national voice as part of the work being done to combat stigma in the United States, and creator of this website, lawyerswithdepression.com, has been named new director of workplace well-being for the Mental Health Association of Erie County.  Read more here.

Beyond Biglaw: Embracing Stress

Attorney Gaston Kroub blogs in Above the Law: “The general consensus is that many lawyers lead stressful lives. Whether it is the pressures of handling deals, the emotional toll of counseling broken families in a matrimonial dispute, or the general demands of life as a litigator, stress is an ever-present condiment on the sandwich meat that is a lawyer’s life. At the same time, lawyers are generally considered to have plenty of experience managing stress, due to their having survived law school, the bar exam, and even today’s broken job market for recent graduates.” Read the rest of his blog.

How to Defy Your Genes

This AARP Magazine article features Buffalo, New York lawyer, Dan Lukasik.  The article tells Dan’s story about growing up in a home with two parents who suffered from depression and what he’s done to address his depression differently to better cope.  Read the News

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