Anxiety + Depression

Mental Health and the Legal Profession

Workplace dissatisfaction is at an all-time high among lawyers.

Research shows law to be the occupation most susceptible to clinical depression. (Johns Hopkins University; 1990) Legal professionals are 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than the general population.

Substance abuse among lawyers is rampant. While 10% of the general adult population is alcohol-dependant, among lawyers practicing from 2-20 years, the number jumps to 18%. For those practicing more than 20 years the number is 25%. Many of these individuals are both depressed and chemically dependant.

The word depression conjures up many stereotypes and prejudices. As a clinical diagnosis it can mean many things and encompass a range of symptoms, behaviours and etiologies. There are even more ways to deal with it.

The following story is typical of someone suffering from depression.

John’s story

Here is a typical story of someone suffering from depression:

John had a good relationship, two lovely children, good health and good friends. He was promoted to an excellent job. After a while, he began to worry, constantly thinking and planning about work. He had a tough time getting to sleep. He would wake up late at night, tense with worry. John didn’t share any of this with his wife, friends or coworkers. He thought he should have felt happy. As he became more tired, he had a tough time focusing; it became difficult to work and even more difficult to make decisions.  He began to lose interest in his social and home life, wasn’t hungry and lost weight. All he wanted to do was sleep – he even lost interest in sex.

John saw no reason for his problems. He thought he should be happy and energetic, so he began to work even harder. He became cranky at work, then jittery, then increasingly tired. Feeling despair, John’s negative thoughts were always present. His sense of guilt and worthlessness and fear of job loss and family problems continued to grow until the pain became so great that he had to seek help.

With help and continuing support, John was able to return to a fulfilling life.

Part of the problem was that because John did not share his distress with anyone he just worked harder, unable to break out of the downward cycle. Most often (if not always) it is impossible for anyone to handle this on their own. Any activity or thought just seems to feed the cycle and exacerbate the problem. Reaching out to others has been proven successful in breaking any kind of closed cycle. Then the recovery process can begin.

Remember that you do not have to know the cause or the full extent of the problem to begin looking for solutions.

Symptoms of Depression

If you or someone you know have any of the following symptoms, call us or seek help from a competent professional:

  • Hypersomnia/insomnia, waking early, difficulty getting up
  • Psychomotor retardation/agitation (feeling like molasses/lead or jittery)
  • Feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem, self-critical, critical of others
  • Change in appetite (weight gain or weight loss)
  • Difficulty focusing, concentrating, making decisions
  • Depressed mood, apathy, feeling overwhelmed or despair, ready tearfulness
  • Isolation or not wanting contact
  • Diminished interest in pleasure or things you were once interested in
  • Suicidal ideation, thoughts of suicide, suicide plans or attempts
  • Panic, continuous anxiety
  • Persistent physical symptoms or pains that do not respond to treatment
  • Unpredictable or uncontrollable mood swings, restlessness, irritability
  • Obsessive thinking, worrying or compulsive behaviours
  • Use of alcohol or drugs to get sleep, calm nerves, provide energy or courage

Getting Help

There is no need to live with any of these symptoms on a long term basis.

They may or may not indicate a mood disorder. They may be the result of a physical disorder (thyroid problems can cause these types of symptoms). They may be a normal reaction to a life situation. In any case, they should be looked into. Don’t ignore it. The worst thing that you can do is try to “work through it” alone.

Talk to friends and family and seek professional help. You may have a serious problem that can be readily dealt with, you might prevent a serious problem from occurring and you can have a richer, fuller life.