How Lawyers Can Find Silver Linings In Dark Times

Dr. Beau A. Nelson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the Chief Clinical Officer at FHEHealth in Florida. He specializes in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Integrated Behavioral Healthcare, maximizing medical, psychiatric, Neuroscience, and clinical interventions.

The philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche famously said, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” There’s some debate over the truth of that statement.  Obviously, some life experiences are so traumatic they leave little room for silver linings.  At the same time, emerging therapies like “Post-Traumatic Growth” look to capitalize on the process of healing from trauma or apply a strengths-based perspective that builds on successes and positive efforts to get better.

When we look at the dark times that most people will suffer in their lives—the end of a relationship, job loss, financial stress, a life-changing diagnosis, or the death of a loved one—we might do well to take the view that what we do with these events can, in fact, grow us as people.  We might benefit from telling ourselves that we can take comfort in overcoming obstacles and maybe even develop confidence in challenging times in the future.

Listening to Depression: What It Might Be Trying to Tell Lawyers Who Suffer From It

This guest blog is from Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, a clinical psychologist and author of the book, “Listening to Depression: How Understanding Your Pain Can Heal Your Life.” I also write below about what listening to depression has meant in my own own life as a lawyer.

Why are lawyers so depressed these days?

The rates of depression and substance abuse problems are skyrocketing according to recent media reports and research. Can depression be seen as a break-down in the service of offering you an opportunity for a break-through? If depression offers corrective feedback to lawyers, what might it be telling you?

We only reflect on those things that break down in our life. For example, if life is going along smoothly you won’t spend time thinking about the meaning of life. You tend to think deeply about life when something is not working. When we identify a problem, we begin to reflect on what caused the problem and how to fix the problem. If you are disconnected from your deepest feelings and impulses you may still manage to get through life without realizing that your life is off track.

Depression makes it tough to function as a lawyer

One of the defining features of depression is that it results in impairment in social and professional functioning. You may feel blue, begin to lose interest in some aspects of your life, but this will not be diagnosed as depression unless a marked impairment in day-to-day functioning is evident. It is this aspect of depression, by definition an impairment, that seems on the face of it most difficult to reconcile with the idea that depression is a gift.

But if you begin to open to the possibility that there was something fundamentally wrong with your level of functioning before your depression, only then does the idea of depression as a gift begin to make sense. A bread-down can become a gift when it is in the service of increasing reflection on your life which will lead to ask the fundamentally important questions:

What is wrong with my life? What can I do to correct the problem?

When you listen to your depression, you can hear your life.

Mental Health in Law Schools: My Chat with David Jaffe, Associate Dean of Student Affairs at American University

 

Today’s guest is David B. Jaffe, Associate Dean of Student Affairs at American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C. A committed steward of law student wellness, he is the author of “The Key to Law Student  Well-Being? We Have to Love Our Law Students.” and oversees all aspects of the Office of Student Affairs, which includes support for J.D. students from Orientation, through academic and personal counseling, organization development, to Commencement.

Dean Jaffe serves on the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) as co-chair of the Law School Assistance Committee and co-wrote Part II of The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, Recommendations for Law Schools. In 2015, he received the CoLAP Meritorious Service Award in recognition of his commitment to improving the lives of law students. He received a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis and his J.D. from American University Washington College of Law.

True Stories: Depression Sucks & It’s Lonely, Too

“True Stories” is a series of guest blogs I am running. Below, Michael Herman, a lawyer and partner at the Toronto offices of the global law firm of Gowling WLG, shares his experiences with the loneliness that comes with his depression.

“There’s a reason we feel lonely even though we’re not alone. It’s because loneliness is not about how many friends we have or how many people there are in the room with us … it’s a disconnection from other human beings.” – Ranata Suzucki

It’s about 9:30 at night, and I am sitting in the living room watching TV and trying to unwind from a long and stressful day at work, filled with meetings, responding to emails, and dealing with various problems. Just another day at the office. Out of nowhere, I start to feel it – an overwhelming sense of loneliness, as if there is no one in my life to whom I can turn for sustenance.

It’s a Saturday night, and I’m at a party surrounded by friends and family. People gather in small groups, talking, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. I scan the room and think that I don’t belong. The only thing I want to do is leave and escape from the pain of the loneliness I’m experiencing in the midst of this group of happy people.

I am very familiar with these feelings; they’ve been my companions on and off since I was a young child. It’s as if no one can see me or hear me, as if I don’t really exist and, worse, have no reason to exist.

Secondary Trauma in the Law: An Interview with Expert Dawn D’Amico, Ph.D.

This podcast interview features my conversation with Dr. Dawn D’Amico, a psychotherapist, educator, and expert on secondary trauma in the legal profession. She is the author of the recently published book “Trauma and Well-Being Among Legal Professionals” and a companion workbook.

Secondary trauma is caused by witnessing another individual’s trauma experience or hearing his or her trauma narrative. Legal professionals are exposed to harrowing stories in courtrooms across the country, and these narratives often have a lasting psychological impact which may result in anxiety, depression, and suicide.  In this interview, Dr. D’Amico goes into greater detail about secondary trauma and offers some ideas and tools to help those who struggle better cope with these issues.

Dr. D’Amico has given keynote speakers and seminars around the country and internationally. For more information on her background, services, and incredible work, visit her website.

True Stories: A Lawyer With Depression’s Journey from Pain to Mental Health Advocacy

 

“True Stories” is a series of guest blogs I am running. Below, Gavin Alexander bravely tells his story of a journey from Harvard and Biglaw to becoming a champion for mental health and well-being in the legal profession.  

I felt comfortable enough to come out as bisexual when I was 16.  I didn’t feel comfortable enough to come out as suffering from depression until I was 30.  As a result, while I was pretty darn sure from around age 12 that the symptoms I was experiencing were tied to mental illness, I did not seek or receive any kind of treatment or mental health support until I was 5 years into my practice as a lawyer.  I was petrified that leaving any sort of “paper trail” of having received mental health treatment would place a cap on my ambitions, limit my career prospects, or even cause me to lose the support of my family and friends.

During my time in law school, I thought about killing myself nearly every day of every exam and study period. I believed, based on messaging I received from law school career services offices, law professors, and the legal media, that anything short of massive success would result in abject poverty and an inability to repay my over $200,000 of student loans.  I wound up finishing my 1L year at Boston University School of Law with the number 1 GPA in my section of over 80 students, transferring to Harvard Law School, graduating from Harvard in the top 10% of my class with a GPA of 4.02, and securing a clerkship with former Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the “SJC”) Ralph Gants.  I provide these details not to brag, but to illustrate that depression and suicidal ideation can affect even those who show all external indicia of success.

True Stories: A Wife’s Pain Over Her Husband’s Struggle With Depression During His First Year of Law School

“True Stories” is a new series of guest blogs I am running; this is the fourth in the series. Here is a heartfelt story from Katie, who writes about her husband’s struggles with depression during his first year of law school.

Three years ago, my husband became a first-year law student at a state school with an excellent reputation. After several years of waffling between pursuing medicine, law, military, and scientific research careers, he opted for law and was admitted to a number of schools, accepting his best offer. We relocated so that he could attend, moving from the sunny Southwest to the frigid winters of the Mid-Atlantic. He was excited at first, eager to begin a new chapter of his life, and enthusiastic to embark on a learning journey; he loves to read and study politics, economics, business, and law, and I felt that this endeavor would help him fulfill his potential both personally and professionally.

True Stories: An Attorney Shares His Journey Through Depression Before COVID and Now

“True Stories” is a new series of guest blogs I am running. Here’s an anonymous account by one small firm attorney who shares his story about his depression both before and after COVID-19. 

The practice of law is difficult even at the best of times.

Lawyers require a certain psychological stability. Attorneys in medium-sized and larger firms face the added pressures to bill significant hours and compete with colleagues. Advocates in smaller firms can experience social isolation and are often weighed down by administrative burdens.

As a small firm practitioner, I have found the time since Friday, March 13, 2020, when lockdowns began, particularly difficult. It was on that date that the world changed forever. I am, of course, speaking about the pandemic. There have now been approximately 3 million people who have died, and over 100 million reported cases of COVID-19 worldwide since that fateful day. I write mindful that the pandemic is improving in some jurisdictions and that it remains a dire and daily threat in others.

True Stories: A Lawyer Tells All About His Traumatic Childhood, Drinking, Depression, and Recovery

“True Stories” is a new series of guest blogs I am running. Too often, lawyers don’t know the burdens other lawyers carry both outside and inside the office. Here’s an unvarnished and anonymous account by one BigLaw lawyer who shares his powerful story. 

I am an attorney with major depression. Understanding this recovery story from mental disease requires a trip back to my childhood, where depression first took root.

When I was nine months old, my mother left me alone with my father, an unpredictable, violent alcoholic. She returned to find a pile of blankets on the living room floor. Underneath, she found me, covered with welts. My father told her that I wouldn’t stop crying, so he hit me until I stopped crying. The physical (and later verbal) abuse continued for several years, as did my ability to accept it without responsive emotion.

At the age of four, I began going to the next-door neighbor’s house for before and after school care. There, the neighbor’s oldest son repeatedly sexually abused me.  He warned me not to tell anyone, so I didn’t.

Growing up in constant fear, I learned to hide all feelings, both good and bad, and keep secrets.

A Lawyer’s Tough Tale: Depression at a BigLaw Firm

This a guest blog by a lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, and his difficult journey with bipolar depression and his BigLaw firm.  

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.

Instead, I was able to construct an alter-ego, the “happy warrior.”  I had a smile on my face and a sardonic remark ready on cue. But I went about my daily business feeling like a secret agent in a Cold War spy movie.  If my cover was ever blown, I was certain that my career would be at an end.

Built by Staple Creative