What Do Lawyers Have To Be Depressed About?

When I talk to non-lawyers about the high rate of lawyer depression, they seem incredulous and sometimes a bit peeved.   I was at Starbucks last week.  I was drinking my cup of steaming Joe when a neurosurgeon I knew walked in.  He treats some of my personal injury clients and had testified in a couple of my trials over the years.

He asked how I was doing with helping depressed lawyers.  “Good,” I said.  “I get calls every week.  It’s a huge problem in my profession.”  He nodded like he got it, like he understood that such a demanding profession could trigger depression in so many of my colleagues.  I thought he sympathized with their plight.

But then he looked me right in the eye and said, “You want something to really be depressed about, you should try being one of the poor people that walk into my clinic!  There in lots of pain and often have lost their jobs because of it.”

Maybe you had to be there, but there was an undercurrent of sarcasm in his voice, as if to suggest that lawyers had NOTHING to be depressed about. Why should lawyers, with so much education, public respect and money, be depressed?  People with real problems have a right to be depressed – not lawyers.

I was first saddened by his words – and then angry.  Saddened by the ignorance of this highly educated man and angry because of the hurt both I and so many others have felt when hearing such bullshit – enough with this kind of talk, already; enough with the stigma.

Depression doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, man or woman or a person with a few problems or with a lot.  That’s because depression is a disease – and a complicated one, at that.  Like diabetes and heart disease, it doesn’t discriminate – it exacts a terrible emotional and physical toll on ALL of its victims.  As such, all depression sufferers are worthy of our understanding and compassion.

This doctor wasn’t the first and won’t be the last person I hear this type of crap from.  I know that. But it still hurts after all this time to hear it.  And it still makes me angry.

By Daniel T. Lukasik, Esq.


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7 thoughts on “What Do Lawyers Have To Be Depressed About?

  1. Hard to believe that a physician could speak such words. Especially a neurosurgeon.

    I wouldn’t waste my anger on him, though. I would, however, avoid becoming his patient. Because there seems to be a serious gap in his medical knowledge.

    1. Agreed. I guess I feel this anger because this kind of stupidity is that sort of thing that makes depressed folks feel bad about themselves and sometimes avoid or give up on treatment. One study by NAMI found that 42% of Americans think of depression as a “lack of willpower”. Amazing, isn’t it? Hope all is well with you, Ray.

  2. This view is extremely common, but it isn’t limited to depression. It’s very difficult for many people to even begin to grasp the concept that a high percentage of lawyers are dissatisfied with their professions.

    Taking a step back for a moment, I think that’s where this naive view comes from, and its where I disagree with your entry above. Yes, Depression is a disease, but beyond that there’s existential problem in the profession that expresses itself, in some people, as depression and in others as anger, career dissatisfaction, moral decay, or personality erosion. A person could take various views of that, by what I think may be the biggest single factor of it is that lawyers deal with human misery and problems every day which most of them had no expectation of doing when they took up the career. Being a lawyer is portrayed as exciting and glamorous, but in reality it’s tedious and involves huge amounts of stress attempting to solve problems which, at the end of the day, most lawyers know cannot really be solved. In exchange at best you get some money, at worst you get nothing at all, but in general the reward for solving an agonizing problem is to be presented with more problems.

    Stepping even further back, Gallup just reported that 70% of Americans are disengaged in their jobs, with the well educated being the most disengaged. So, for lawyers, who are highly educated, we not only fit into that 70% class, but we further are awash with horrible human problems every day. That’s going to lead to depression for some.

    But people can’t grasp that, and by and large the process for generating lawyers won’t inform the interested in that. So the system continues to recruit the young with promises of glamor, riches and excitement, and instead offers them much lower pay, much longer hours, and endless problems to work on, if they find work. That’s hard for those whose exposure to law is limited to “Suits” to grasp. Indeed, they probably don’t want to grasp it.

  3. I have heard similar comments and had similar questions from colleagues. To me, the comment/question “What do you have to be depressed about?” indicates a fundamental absence of understanding of depression. My usual response is along the lines of “Depression isn’t ‘about’ something. If that’s all there was to it, we could identify ‘it’ and deal with ‘it.’ directly. Problem solved!” We can be mad, or sad, or angry, or anxious about “something” but depression is much larger and more complicated than that. People who’ve experienced true depression understand that. Those who haven’t seldom do. At least in my experience.

    1. Very true. I have also heard such comments from fellow lawyers. I told me, “If you cannot stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen”. As if such trite advice solves anything. I share your insight that depression isn’t “about something.” For so long, I thought it was. It seems it isn’t events triggering the depression, but the illness of depression triggering the depression. Folks who never had depressed just have no reference point. I think that’s why they see depression more as sadness – something they can relate to. Dan

  4. Being a depressed lawyer, I find it rather offensive that a doctor would be so dismissive of other people’s problems.

    1. Thanks for your input. I also found it offensive. But wrote about it to describe how even well-educated people can be so ignorant of those who suffer. I just had to write this piece for those who feel the same anger/hurt when they are on the receiving end of such ignorant comments.

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