Lawyers Helping Lawyers: How to Start a Depression Support Group in Your Bar Community

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.

  1.   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.

My Journey Into Less Sunlight, More Sleep

 

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. 

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.

10 Summer Depression Busters

Although my mood seems to be better with more sun, I understand why a substantial number of folks get more depressed in the summer. Extreme heat is hard to tolerate. In fact, in a study published in Science in 2013, researchers reported that as temperatures rose, the frequency of interpersonal violence increased by 4 percent, and intergroup conflicts by 14 percent.

There are four distinct types of people when it comes to weather and mood, according to a study published in Emotion in 2011.

  • Summer Lovers (better mood with warmer and sunnier weather)
  • Unaffected (weak associations between weather and mood)
  • Summer Haters (worse mood with warmer and sunnier weather)
  • Rain Haters (particularly bad mood on rainy days)

Ten percent of those diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder suffer symptoms at the brightest time of the year. The summer’s brutal heat, bright light, and long days can affect a person’s circadian rhythm and contribute to depression for the opposite reasons that winter conditions do.

If you’re a Summer Hater, or just notice that your mood is affected negatively by the heat, here are some summer depression busters that may help you better tolerate these months — maybe even enjoy them.

5 Good Ways to Boost Your Mood

Depression makes everything harder: motivation is low, we get little pleasure from things we normally enjoy, we have no energy, and relationships tend to be strained. Small wonder it’s the leading cause of disability in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

Several treatment options are effective in reducing depression. The majority of psychological treatments with strong research support are cognitive-behavioral (CBT) and focus on changing thoughts and behaviors to improve mood. Some forms of medication, such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can be as effective as CBT, at least for as long as a person takes them.

So, which treatment option should a person choose? Obviously, it’s an individual choice and one that should be made in consultation with one’s doctor. For those who prefer to start with a psychological treatment—either because they’ve not found medications to be helpful and/or the side effects weren’t tolerable—CBT is a good candidate given the strong research support.

A recent study, the largest of its kind—showed that a simple treatment requiring less

Tackling Depression in the Workplace

I recently interviewed a friend and former co-worker who lost a career and a 13-year job due, in large part, to a bout of severe depression and anxiety that was not being managed well by her behavioral health specialist. This friend has depression in her family and had been through several depressive episodes in her life, but had come out of each of them with a combination of medication, support from friends, therapy, and self-exploration. In her 30+ years of working, she had never before lost a job because of her mental health issues.

Prior to this episode, she had been widely praised at her company for over a decade, and most of the time had received praise, bonuses, and regular raises. Her social security reports showed a steady upward trend in her compensation over the years that she had been in the workforce, the way it was supposed to. She felt she had done well professionally.

But then, things got hard. She had just left an abusive relationship, and the combination of trauma and her genetic predisposition to depression had sent her into a spiral of sometimes-suicidal depression, for which she sought professional help.

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.

Finding Meaning in the Legal Profession:An Interview with Dr James Hollis

This is my interview with psychoanalyst, James Hollis, Ph.D., author of the best-selling books, “What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life,” and “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up

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.

We would have to figure out where that fine line is and where it might cross over into something that was more than normal.  When we say that a person is grieving too long or it is affecting their lives so profoundly, that’s a judgment call, of course, but we do know people that have been sort of destroyed by reactive depression because they had attached so much of their identity to the other, whatever it might be: a position in life that they lost or a relationship that was important.

But I think none of us can avoid occasional reactive depressions because life is a series of attachments and losses.  Most commonly, when we think about depression, however,

Dealing With Negative Emotions at Work

We seem to really get a kick out of complaining about work. We hover around the water cooler, confide in our friends, and even share our workplace horror stories with our spouses.

But recounting all the things that made us miserable one day doesn’t help us enjoy our workday more tomorrow. A better strategy is to actually address the negative feelings we have.

When annoyance, self-doubt, or the blues surface at work, we can learn to work through these feelings. Here are three emotion regulation strategies you can use—and how to put them into practice for a happier work life.

  1. Mindful acceptance: Let the things you cannot change be.

Negative emotions exist. Pushing them away or ignoring them does more harm than good, even if we might be tempted to do so.

Instead, try acknowledging your emotions and giving them a seat at the table. Maybe you feel bad because your boss plays favorites—and you’re not the favorite. Or maybe you’re frustrated because your teammates are always running late. It’s okay to feel these negative emotions. You don’t need to judge yourself.

To learn how to practice acceptance at work, start at home by writing out a list of the things you can and cannot control. First, focus on the things you cannot control. Let any emotions you have rise to the surface. Work on accepting these emotions, and yourself, just as you are—saying things like, “I am angry that I didn’t get a promotion, but that’s okay. I am allowed to feel angry.” Experience these emotions, but don’t hold on to them or ruminate on the causes. Just let them fade in their own time.

A word of caution: You might be better served by actually changing your situation if you have the ability to do so, rather than accepting an abusive boss or unhealthy work environment. Use that list of things you can control to take action.

  1. Self-distancing: Observe your situation like a fly on the wall.

We all experience unpleasant situations, especially at work. You may ruminate about a meeting that went poorly, a coworker who slighted you, or a lack of acknowledgment for a project you poured your heart into. But the longer you feel bad, the more that bad feeling compounds.

To calm these negative emotions, mentally removing yourself from the situation is a helpful trick. Research suggests that a more distanced, third-party perspective can reduce the intensity of the negative emotions you feel. To try it, imagine that you’re a fly on the wall, observing your situation. How do you see the situation? How do both people look—you and the other person? By cultivating a broader perspective, you’ll often discover that the situation is not as bad as you thought it was.

A word of caution: Be careful not to mentally remove yourself from the situation permanently. There are many benefits to staying mindfully present for your work life.

  1. Reappraisal: Find the positives in negative situations.

Finding the positive in negative situations is an especially useful regulation strategy when something happens at work that you judge to be undesirable.

To begin to change your perspective, learn to pause in the face of something negative and think of or write down at least one positive. For example, did you get critical feedback on a recent presentation you gave or a report you wrote? Might you reappraise this as helpful information for your career growth—an opportunity to learn how to do better next time? The more frequently you challenge yourself to find the positives, the easier it will be for your brain to start noticing them on its own.

By Tchiki Davis, Ph.D.

Tchiki is a consultant, writer, and expert on well-being technology. Over more than a decade, she has helped build happiness products, programs, and services for non-profit and for-profit businesses, for children and adults, and for online as well as in-person audiences. Tchiki is currently working with Silicon Valley tech companies and UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center to build more effective well-being technologies.

 

 

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