Years ago, 1997 to be exact, I was thinking about writing an article for a lawyer’s magazine about my experiences with depression while practicing law. I had lunch with a good friend of mine, Bob, who at that time worked in a large litigation firm in New York City. Since then, Bob has become a federal judge and remains a dear friend.
After we had ordered, I told Bob about my idea to write the article. He sat quietly and listened, looking down at his salad as I spoke. Finally, he said, “Dan, this is an awful idea. While noble, why would you expose yourself to the insults some people are going to hurl your way.” We spoke at length and I finally told my dear friend that I was going to write the article anyway.
For the first few years after that initial talk, Bob would call me regularly and check in, “How’s it going, Dan? Is everything all right?” I so appreciated Bob’s loving concern. More importantly, however, something began to change in our relationship. Bob eventually disclosed to me that he had had a episode of major depression some years ago and had tried to commit suicide.
It seems to me that my willingness to speak frankly about my depression gave Bob permission to speak about his.
Unfortunately, talking about depression is not easy for most men. They have lots of trouble coming to terms with depression, even when they get treatment. All the more so if they’re a lawyer.
Lawyers aren’t supposed to have problems; we’re supposed to fix them. Most male lawyers I know would rather drop dead than admit that they have problem with depression. I guess the exception to this observation is when the wheels have fallen off for them. Then, and only then, do they recognize (hopefully) that they are suffering from depression and the toll that it is taking on their lives. The consequences for failing to recognize this basic fact can be serious (loss of productivity at work, sleep problems, etc.) or fatal (middle aged lawyers commit suicide at twice the rate of the national average).
Psychologist, Terrance Real, the author of the book, I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, makes the observation that we don’t think of men as depressed. This is so because what we are really thinking about is “overt” depression and more women show signs of that – weeping, a willingness to discuss painful feelings, etc. Men suffer from “covert” depression that expresses itself in addiction, isolation, workaholism, isolation and increased irritability.
“Men are just as feelingful, just as relational, just as connected, just as dependent, just as needy, as women are. Men have been coerced since childhood to forego these relational qualities and skills and squeeze their sense of membership and self-esteem through performance. Girls are taught to filter their sense of self-worth through connection to others, and boys are taught to filter their sense of self-worth through performance. That’s a vulnerable foundation for one’s self-worth,” notes Real.
The excellent website, Men Get Depression, says there are three distinctive signs of male depression:
Pain. Depression may show up as physical signs like constant headaches, stomach problems, or pain that doesn’t seem to be from other causes or that doesn’t respond to normal treatments.
Risk Taking. Sometimes, depressed men will start taking risks like dangerous sports, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, and casual sex.
Anger. Anger can show itself in different ways like road rage, having a short temper, being easily upset by criticism, and even violence.
So often, the first symptom that male lawyers notice that they are slipping is in the performance department. One of the symptoms of clinical depression is difficulty concentrating. This leads to problems in getting work out the door. They may try to hide that their work is slipping – ask for extensions, take much longer to do tasks that were simple and routine in the past. If the problem doesn’t go away, some will seek out help – usually through their family doctor (who distribute 80% of the prescriptions in this country for antidepressant medications). Some will go the extra step of seeing a therapist that they can talk with about their problems.
My therapist used to liken my depression to a caveman camping out of his cave. It took a lot to coax me out of there. Men need to come out of their caves into the light of day where the colors are brighter, others can help them and they can get better.
5 thoughts on ““I Don’t Want To Talk About It”: Guys With Depression”
I’m a lawyer from the Philippines, having been in practise for the past seven. Before that, I worked in government. I’ve had bouts with depression and it does rear its ugly head from time to time. I’m afraid and ashamed of having it diagnosed or getting professional help.
My mother has had a history with depression and mental illnes and I’m afraid I caught the first.
I’ve always been easily frustrated and anxious as long as I remember. and my entry into law practise has only heightened my anxiety and frustrations. It’s really about the work I do, the incessant pressure of work, the terrible calls from clients and management and the increased responsibility I have assumed as a family man. I always feel I’m not doing enough and this makes me sad most of the time. I feel helpless; I feel weak, unmanned. I also have developed great fears of failure and turning myself into a humoungous screw-up. I fear losing my job or my family. There are mornings that getting on my feet is almost next to impossible. I would often find myself lost in my thoughts in bed, wasting away hours that I know I should have spent with my wife and children. Recently, I have indulged in suicide fantasies during my commute. I’ve also began indulging in a shameful addiction that I fear will destroy me in the long run. I know all of this is wrong..
I know I need to get professional help but, to be candid, I am too ashamed to do it. Anyway, I admire your resolve and dedication. Reading your entries here bring me tremendous comfort. I am not alone.
Thanks so much for sharing. I know all too well what you’re talking about when you speak of shame. Just so you know, must lawyers with depression feel exactly the same way that you do. You are not alone. I recall saying almost the same words that you wrote to me years ago to my psychologist. After listening for a few minutes, he said very gently to me, “Dan, it’s the depression talking.”
When depressed, we mistake our depressed thoughts for reality. When these thoughts are really distortions of reality that come back to hurt us over and over again.
I built this website 7 years ago for people like you. So that you wouldn’t have to feel so ashamed. I would be happy to share some more ideas with you, but didn’t want to in a public forum. Feel free to contact me at my personal email at firstname.lastname@example.org
I am a depressed lawyer. I have a stack of worker’s comp cases that eat up all my time. Most of these people’s lives have been ruined by self-insured employers and the aggressive tactics of third-party administrators. Because of the powerful business and insurance lobby, the laws keep making their cases ever-more hopeless. The defense examiners in this state are ruthless — many of whom have been disciplined and banned from practicing, with an agreement from DOH that they can continue to do insurance exams. The third-party claims managers are hateful and conniving. The insurance defense attorneys are ruthless, shameless, hateful, cruel, and vicious. There is no end. Everybody thinks I’m raking in the dough because I’m a lawyer and MBA. Truth is, I make less than I did 20 years ago in my starting salary first job out of undergrad. My student loans are double my mortgage every month. My mother on the other side of the country recently went in the hospital. It’s terminal. I don’t have enough for a plane ticket and rental car to visit, without careful planning and saving for another month or two. Credit cards are maxed. Mostly from books and subscriptions I need to practice, and from client expenses they can’t afford to pay. I’m definitely going to commit suicide. I just don’t know when. It’s easy to get in the hum drum of day to day and simply fail to plan it. There are so many demands. Sometimes I daydream about suicide bombing an infamous defense examiner or third-party administrator. I would never do that, of course. But I have for so long held the narrative that I am on the verge of ending my life, that I cannot possibly imagine anything different. I am just simply tired. I simply do not have it in me any more. The thought of persisting at this another 20 or 40 years, and being in constant financial struggle, and fighting the same issues over and over on each new case where a self-insured employer has masterfully screwed its injured worker, is just too much to take. I’d rather drop dead than keep this up. And I plan to.
Scott I hear your pain and I’ve been there. I have been a litigator for the past 26 years and know just how tough this profession can be – especially when you’re struggling with so much depression. I would encourage not to go the path of depression. You can change and get better. I know it’s hard to believe, but I have know dozens of lawyers from all different practice areas who have been as deparate as you and turned it around. I would be happy to talk with you in more detail, if you wish. If you are interested, please e-mail be directly at email@example.com. If you do not feel like doing that, please read the book “Undoing Depression” by Richard O’Connor, Ph.D. Warmly, Dan