Lawyers and Depression: How to Recognize the Signs and Where to Get Help
More than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization. And, as we reported in the first part of our series on the subject, lawyers are more prone to depression than those in other professions.
Being unhappy though, isn’t the same as being depressed. We may sometimes use the word “depressed” to describe how we feel after a bad week at work, when we’re going through a breakup, or mourning the death of a loved one, but these feelings are usually short-lived. Clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder (MDD) is longer-lasting and much more serious.
Below are a few symptoms of depression that will help you determine if you, a loved one, or a colleague may be suffering from this disorder. If you are, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional as soon as possible. Here are the symptoms:
Persistent sadness. According to licensed psychologist Laura Chackes, owner and clinical director of The Center for Mindfulness & Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in St. Louis, Missouri, if you or someone you know is feeling down or sad for most of the day and every day over at least a two-week period of time, it may be time to seek professional help. It can also be a red flag when there is no situation or event that brought on these unshakeable dark feelings.
Change in behavior. A loss of interest in activities that previously brought enjoyment is a sign that someone may be depressed. Chakes notes that a decrease or increase in appetite, withdrawal from friends and social circles, and increased anger or irritability are symptoms worthy of attention and should be addressed.
Increased fatigue and sleep difficulties. Jared Heathman, a Houston psychiatrist, and Whitney Hawkins, a psychotherapist and owner of The Collaborative Counseling Center in Miami, both agree that sleeping too much or not enough, having trouble falling asleep, or waking up at all hours of the night can all be a sign of depression. These sleeping problems can lead to lack of energy and an overwhelming sense of fatigue, which can then lead to delaying getting out of bed as long as possible or staying in bed all day. It can be a vicious cycle and a hallmark sign of depression.
Negative thoughts. Despite experiencing something positive—such as receiving a bonus at work—depressed people often dismiss the positive event with a negative response, such as “What does it matter? It won’t amount to much,” according to Nicole Prause, a neuroscientist and founder of Liberos LLC, an independent research institute. This inability to fully or appropriately experience a situation could be cause for alarm.
Mental slowdown. People with depression may have trouble concentrating, making decisions, or remembering details.
Suicidal thoughts. Having thoughts about harming yourself or imagining how you would end it all must always be taken seriously, says Prause. If you are thinking about suicide, you need to get help immediately.
So where do you get help? Here are some excellent resources for people in the legal profession and law school facing depression as well as substance abuse:
- First, make an appointment with your primary care doctor or mental health professional. The American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association both can help you find such mental health experts in your area.
- The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs “has a mission to assure that every judge, lawyer and law student has access to support and assistance when confronting alcoholism, substance use disorders, or mental health issues so that lawyers are able to recover, families are preserved and clients and other members of the public are protected.” This mission is carried out through each state’s program. Here’s a link to a directory of Lawyer Assistance Programs throughout the country.
- The ABA also provides a very comprehensive list of helpful resources for lawyers, judges, and law students.
- Contact your state bar association to see what resources it provides to its members who are battling mental health issues or substance abuse.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Check out their website and call 1-800-273-8255.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a national helpline 24/7 365 days a year for treatment referral and information service for people and their families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
- Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, an addiction treatment and advocacy organization.
*This is part three of our five-part series on mental health, substance abuse, and wellness in the legal industry. See the rest of the series here.
Kristin Johnson is an executive and corporate communications professional, and founder of KSJ Communications, a communications and public relations firm. She consults with a diverse roster of clients spanning the technology, professional services, financial services, public sector, consumer, and healthcare industries. In addition to Rocket Matter, Johnson writes for various other publications as well.