Lawyers and Anxiety — The Fault of the Person, the field or law school?

I have a friend named Matt. He was one of the most popular students at my high school. A bit of a nerd, he was excellent at basketball, good enough at football, and not too bad with the ladies. He and our group of mutual friends would go out regularly, getting into shenanigans and living it up like young people are supposed to live.

As we got older, not much changed. While our shenanigans matured, we were still a group of outgoing companions that found ways to make life more enjoyable while still remaining as responsible as possible. We were the ideal – outgoing people with adult lives who continued to enjoy each other’s company.

Then Matt got into law school.

During law school he suffered from some general life stresses. His mother was diagnosed with cancer, and he and his girlfriend had their ups and downs. It was hard on him, certainly, but his mother was getting treatment and he and his girlfriend were still together, so it seems like something the average emotionally healthy person would cope with.

But he couldn’t because law school didn’t allow him to. His first year was brutal, without even the smallest break for some type of school/life balance. He was placed into a law student group in which he spent the vast majority of his time. He had no social life, he had no free time, and he certainly didn’t have the opportunity to cope with the stress he was experiencing in his personal life.

Not long after that he became a different person. He became socially withdrawn, “flaky,” and took to drinking. He was past the age when most people suffer from major personality changes and yet there he was, becoming a different person right in front of me, with very little I could do as most of his time was still spent on his law degree.

Learning to Cope in Law School

There’s an excellent article on this website about the personality of lawyers. In it, the author found that lawyers tended to be more naturally pessimistic, and that the practice itself often contributed to their depression and anxiety.

But I submit that law schools are also creating students that haven’t had an opportunity to learn to cope with the stresses of both the job and life. Many of them appear to be cutting their students off from the outside world – and even from fellow law students – and breeding young lawyers that haven’t had an opportunity to take a breath for several years.

Once they graduate, many of these students will be defending hardened criminals, helping companies dodge taxes, or even burying their faces in paperwork as they try to help companies and individuals avoid prosecution or take advantage of legal loopholes. Some of them will win their cases. Others will lose, often. It’s a lot of high stress work.

And yet few of these students will have had an opportunity to relax or cope since their first year of law school. These high stress students are being thrown into high stress careers, and the one payoff (money) isn’t enough to make up for what they’re being forced to experience.

The career is to blame for a lot of this stress. It’s a career that is prone to numerous failures, and one that expects a great deal of anyone that chooses to pursue it. But the universities that are training these students are also to blame. They’re preventing their students from coping with their daily life, only to throw them into a career with greater stress and no coping strategies.

Law schools need to start taking mental health into far greater consideration with all of their programs. The intensity of each program is believed to be valuable to training future leaders in the field of law, but if 20% of those lawyers are suffering from severe anxiety and depression, these programs have failed, as all they’ve created is another individual suffering from stress in their life. This needs to change.

About the Author: Ryan Rivera is an author and speaker on anxiety and depression, and often meets with lawyers whose jobs are the leadingcause of anxiety. He has more information on anxiety and depression at www.calmclinic.com.

 

Good Ways To Treat Depression: And Why People Don’t Do Them or Give Up Trying

Depression sufferers are often told to embrace what I call the three “G”’ Trifecta: Get therapy, Get on antidepressants and Get some exercise.

Each of these tactics has empirical support. So there’s a lot to recommend about them. But as I will discuss later, lots of people have a hard time embracing these approaches or sticking with them. First, let’s take a peek at what’s good and promising about these three treatment routes.

Why these approaches are Effective

-Therapy

Many studies show that ‘talk therapy” helps folks with depression. In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy; a form of counseling in which a psychologist compassionately confronts a depressive’s pessimistic thinking and tries to teach him or her more optimistic an productive ways of thinking about their. Research has shown that there’s a powerful connection between pessimism and depression: the more negative your thoughts, the more likely you are to get sucked down into the well of depression. Other studies show that lawyers are much more pessimistic than the general population. As such, CBT is a very good treatment option for many in the legal profession.

-Medication

Antidepressant medications are often an effective way to treat depression for lots of people. It seems to alleviate the brutal physical symptoms – – loss of appetite, inability to sleep and chronic fatigue – – so that one can benefit from therapy. It’s tough to get much insight from therapy when you’re feeling so crappy.

However, recent research has discovered that it often takes two or three attempts before the right medication is found that will relieve a person’s particular depression.

-Exercise

Sweating it out has been proven to lift not only one’s general mood, but alleviate depression. Probably the best book I’ve read on the topic is Spark by Harvard physician, John Ratey, M.D. who writes:

“Antidepressants are curious because we think we’re changing brain chemistry when we take them. The science shows us that exercise does the same thing. By exercising, we’re improving the brain’s plasticity. And while it’s hard to get depressed people to get up and move because, well, they’re depressed, you have to sell them on the value of it. Once they get it, they go with it.”

Why People Don’t Do These Things, or Don’t Stick With Them

If these remedies are so effective for so many, why don’t more people who struggle with depression do them, do them more often or stick with them?

– I Don’t Want to Talk About It.

There are lots of reasons why educated and intelligent people don’t go to therapy.  Here are a few of them:

People (lots of them men) don’t go because they just don’t want to talk about what ails them. Culturally, men are often not given permission to be vulnerable and emotive. There’s a limited range of feelings that the culture says are okay for men to vent: anger, irritability and humor. –

Sufferers sometimes can’t find the right therapist and give up.

Those around them do not believe in therapy. I know a lawyer with depression whose wife thinks therapy is a bunch of hand-holding baloney and a rip-off at $125 per hour (Buffalo rates, mind you). As such, he feels discouraged, doesn’t want to hear his wife complain about the cost and doesn’t go.

People are just too fearful of what the consequences would be if they admitted they had depression: “Will I lose my job?” As such, they often deny to themselves or others that something is wrong. – Procrastination: “Maybe it will go away”.

Shame: people feel they will be labeled “defective”, “weak” or “mentally ill.”

Or, for many, they just don’t know any better. The misery they endure is their “normal”. They can’t see how their maladaptive, pessimistic thoughts about life could be anything other than reality – – “That’s just the way life is.” They may even feel bitter when they see others having fun or being happy. They feel cheated. Why can’t I have more happiness in my life? They may feel that happiness is something doled out by the unseen hand of God or lady luck. However it is dished out, they’ve feel they’ve been given a pittance. Not surprisingly, they have no confidence that they have the capacity to create happiness within themselves. “No”, they think when they imagine to themselves that they have good things to look forward to, “That’s not how my life seems to turn out’. This disempowered state is a vicious circle that can only lead to more depression.

 -Antidepressants: The Flip of the Coin?

There’s a billion dollar debate going on whether antidepressants work or not. On one side of the aisle are the folks in lab coats – the bespectacled researchers who look at brain tissue through microscopes; pharmaceutical executives in blue suits who smoke big-ass cigars; and the psychiatrists – the high priests of all that ails the depressed mind – – who advocate taking medication to treat clinical depression.

On the other side are patients who swear that the meds did nothing to help their depression and just screwed them up and made them feel like zombies. On the other are holistic practitioners who believe depression isn’t caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, but by lack of proper nutrition, diet and balance (check out Dr. Andrew Weil) and my psychiatrists who believe that medications, while useful, are over-prescribed.

There currently are no tests, other than trial-and-error, to determine what type or types of medication will prove effective for a particular person. It’s really trial or error. Our family owns a big fat rodent. Did I say he was really fat? Anyway, he is black and white and lives in a large cage in a back room of our house. The colors make him look like a magician in a tuxedo. Hence, his majestic name – – Houdini. I felt like Houdini when my psychiatrist tried different medications on me in a quest to get the right one – a lab animal in which he tried this and then that. Some were real duds; some outright blunders. But I stuck with it. And I’m glad I did because the “right meds” were eventually found for me.

People won’t take medication because of the stigma attached to it. Or, they give up on it before the right medication, dosage or combination is found. Even when the right one is found, folks often stop talking it because of the side effects. I know depressed lawyers who would rather drink or drug rather than take antidepressants.

-Why We Won’t Get Moving

People find it hard to exercise because depression screws up their ability to sleep leaving them unmotivated and just too tired to get to the gym. Years ago, when I first was diagnosed with depression, I recall being bone-tired at the end of a work day and falling asleep a 9 p.m., sleeping on and off throughout the night, getting up at 3 or 4 a.m., shaving, getting dressed and driving to an all-night coffee shop to slurp coffee, get ready for work and wonder “Just what the hell is wrong with me?” But I didn’t have any answers back then. In retrospect, truthfully, the only thing that helped me survive it was to keep walking.

Three Quick Things to get you on the Right Track

1.    If you’ve never been to a competent psychiatrist, remind yourself that you can just go for a consultation and hear what they have to say. Whatever their recommendation, you don’t have to agree with it or follow it. But why not get an opinion from someone who has treated hundreds of people with depression and could tell you whether or not you have it and what your options are? You can also get a second opinion. There are “Depression Centers” around the country where you can go for such a consultation and then return to your treating psychiatrist who can prescribe the recommended medication and monitor you. Bring a friend or family member to the appointment. Sometimes, when we’re depressed, we might not truly hear when the psychiatrist has to say. What does your loved one or friend think the doctor said?

2.   If you don’t want to go to a therapist, you really have to ask yourself why not. I usually recommend that people call friends to ask for recommendations for a couple of therapists. Go visit a few for a 1 hour consultation to see if you click with that person. Remember, if you give into your depression, you will tend to isolate yourself and “suck it up.” What you really need to do is talk to a therapist who has treated hundreds of folks with depression who can give you some ideas about whether you can benefit from therapy. A good friend can listen and give you their love and compassion. But, they can’t do what a good therapist can do.

3.   Make it easier to exercise. Here are three quick ideas. First, always keep your gym bag in your car – EVERY DAY. I’ve found that I’m much more likely to exercise at the gym, if only for 20 minutes, if it’s in the car. Second, don’t shave or shower when you get out of bed. Get dressed like you normally do for work and go get a coffee if you like. I find that I have to work out because I now HAVE TO GO to the gym if I want to get a shower and shave – it’s too late to go home now!

Easy Remedy for Lawyer Depression

This piece reports that only one-half of all law students graduate with a full-time permanent job requiring passage of the bar exam.  Tough news for young lawyers that are already prone to depression – about double the rate of the general population.  Find out what to do about it.  Read the Story.

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