This guest blog is written by attorney Joe Milowic, Director of Well-Being and Of Counsel at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP in New York City. Most of Joe’s advice applies not only to young associates but any lawyer who cares about living a mentally and physically well- balanced life. Joe is also a Founder of the Lawyers Depression Project (LDP), a grassroots project aimed at addressing depression and other mental health issues in the legal profession. Joe is a graduate of the Rutgers College of Engineering, with high honors, and its law school where he was Co-Valedictorian of his 2001 class. In 2018, Joe wrote an article for the New York Law Journal, “Quinn Emanuel Partner Suffers from Depression and He Wants Everyone to Know.” which encouraged a national discussion on depression in the legal profession (Read “Joe Milowic’s Story of Depression Should Spur Renewed Focus on Lawyer Well-Being” from the NYLJ). In this article, Joe shares his tips for self-care to manage your mental health and well-being.
By Joann Mundin, M.D.
There are significant effects of depression in the legal profession that are pervasive. Lawyer depression can have terrible personal and professional ripple effects for attorneys but also impacts clients, business partners, employees, and staff.
The general population is significantly affected by depression, with 17.3 million persons, or 7.1% of all adults in the US, reporting having experienced a major depressive episode in 2017. But, the proportion of depression among attorneys is considerably higher: according to ALM’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse Survey from 2020, 31.2% of the more than 3,800 respondents report having a depressive disorder. This indicates that compared to the ordinary US adult, lawyers have an approximately three-fold higher risk of developing depression.
Nevertheless, the stigma associated with mental illness keeps lawyers from getting help immediately. This can cause excessive and prolonged distress, making the problem worse over time.
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.
When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralyzed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain. The future cannot be separated from the present, and the present is painful beyond solace. ‘This is my last experiment,’ wrote a young chemist in his suicide note. ‘If there is any eternal torment worse than mine I’ll have to be shown.’ – Kay Redfield Jamison, M.D., “Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide”
A second-year law student at the University at Buffalo School of Law, Matthew Benedict, died by suicide earlier this week by leaping from the Liberty Building he had been clerking at according to the Buffalo News. Another account of Matt’s life and suicide was reported in The New York Law Journal.
Matt’s funeral is tomorrow. By all account’s he was a tremendous, loving, talented, bright young man.Matt was kind-hearted, passionate and driven.
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.
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.
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 Minnesota Lawyer reports, “In its entirety, the report provides an overview of a 2016 ABA study of 13,000 lawyers that showed between 21 and 36 percent of them qualify as problem drinkers and that approximately 28 percent, 19 percent, and 23 percent are struggling with some level of depression, anxiety, and stress, respectively.” Read the entire article here.
The ABA Journal reports: “Chuck McGill’s suicide in Better Call Saul reflects what is happening within the legal profession throughout the United States. But anxiety and depression are not confined to practicing lawyers. A study of law school students at Yale University found that 70 percent admitted to suffering from some form of mental health issues. Eighty percent of those respondents considered help, but only half of them actually sought it out. Read the article.