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.

Law Firm Well-Being: A Discussion with a Law Firm Leader

Mackenzie C. Monaco is a partner in the law firm of Monaco Cooper Lamme & Carr, PLLC in Albany, New York, where she represents a wide range of clients, from individuals and local businesses to national corporations, in state and federal courts throughout New York.

She is a summa cum laude graduate of the Albany Law School of Union University. We chatted about the law firm she founded with others and its commitment to a healthy workplace environment for everyone.

True Stories: A Woman Lawyer Speaks Up About Her Anxiety

“True Stories” is a series of guest blogs I am running. Below, a woman gives her anonymous account of developing clinical anxiety during law school and how she finally decided to get help and take care of herself.

I am a woman, an attorney, and someone who happens to struggle with clinical anxiety.

It started in law school. At first, I thought it was just the jitters from being in a fishbowl of super-competitive overachievers like me. This was Cornell Law School, after all. What did I expect?

But as my first year of law school progressed, my anxiety when from background noise to the forefront in my life.  I had panic attacks, I often couldn’t sleep, and I just felt wired all the time. It seemed to fuel my drive to succeed, and I over-prepared for everything, often reading a case note four or five times.  I never talked about my struggles with anyone that first year.

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.

Can We Undo Lawyer Depression? A Psychologist Weighs In

This blog is by Dr. Richard O’Connor, a psychologist in NYC who has treated patients with depression for almost 40 years. He is the author of the best-selling book “Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You” and appears in the documentary, “A Terrible Melancholy: Depression in the Legal Profession.”

There’s some interesting research to suggest that happy people view the world through certain comforting illusions, while depressed people see things more realistically. For instance, the illusion of control. You can take a random sample of people and sit them in front of a video monitor with a joy stick, and tell them their joy stick is controlling the action of the game on the screen. (But the point of experiment is that it actually doesn’t). Depressed people will soon turn to the lab assistant and complain that their joy stick isn’t hooked up correctly. Normal people, on the other hand, will go on happily playing the game for quite some time.

The Elephant in the Room at Law Firms? Lawyer Depression

I was 40 years old when depression first struck.

I was a trial lawyer and managing partner at my firm. From the outside, I was successful: a high-paying career, interesting work, a great family, and lots of friends.

From the inside, however, something was terribly wrong.

There was a deep sadness that wouldn’t go away. Before this time, I had gone to therapists for stress-related issues. Therapy always worked. After a few months talking things through, I always felt better and stopped going.

But this time, it was different. Things didn’t get better.

My New Book On Depression and Anxiety in the Law and How a Lawyer Life Coach Can Help

I’ve written a new book about depression and anxiety in the legal profession.

And it’s free.

You can get an immediate, free download of “Overcoming Stress, Burnout, Anxiety, and Depression in the Legal Profession: How a Lawyer Life Coach Can Help” here.

The first part of my short book outlines the causes of too much stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression in the law.

The second part provides an overview of how my lawyer life coach practice, created specifically for lawyers and law students with mental health problems, can help someone recover and stay well.

The third part is a list of my favorite books for (1) depression, (2) stress and anxiety, and (3) lawyer wellness.

3 Practices for Letting Go of Looping Thoughts

Jenna Cho, lawyer and author of the book, “The Anxious Lawyer” writes, “The ability to gently let go of negative looping thoughts has been perhaps one of the most powerful and unexpected benefits of having a regular meditation practice. Research indicates that meditation can help us process and decrease the impact of negative emotions, such as anger. If you find yourself stuck in an endless negative thought loop, here are three practices that you may find useful.” Read the entire blog here.

The Struggle: When Your BigLaw Firm Forces You Out Because of Your Depression and Alcoholism

A lawyer writes about her experiences as a law clerk and lawyer at a BigLaw firm: “In law school, my anxiety level slowly ramped up after my first year.  I was at a second-tier law school, and I knew grades were absolutely critical.  I thought everything would get better when I landed a BigLaw gig. The BigLaw firm, though, was a haven of high-functioning (and not so high-functioning) alcoholics.” Read the rest of the Blog.

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