SAMSHA in Washington, D.C. asked me, and others, to be in this PSA about living successfully with mental illness and how important support is in recovery. I am proud of what they produced, but it’s often not easy for me to talk about living with depression. I don’t want to be defined by it. More importantly, I don’t want others to define someone else who is, likewise, struggling with a mental health problem. I hope this commercial helps.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.