Depressed Lawyer is Depressed

“Lawyers I suppose were children once.” – Charles Lamb

Some Depressing Facts

Fact 1: As per World Health Organisation’s report in 2011, depression affects 121 million people worldwide and it is responsible for 850,000 deaths every year.

Fact 2: Around 36% Indians suffer from what is called major depressive episode (MDE) which is higher than that of any other country [France 32.3% US – 30.9%].

Fact 3: As per the research conducted by Johns Hopkins University in prevalence of major depressive disorder (MDD) across 104 occupations, lawyers topped the list, suffering from MDD at a rate 3.6 times higher than any other professional.

[The researchers did not know whether lawyers were depressed because “persons at high risk for major depressive disorder” are attracted to the legal profession or because practicing law “causes or precipitates depression”. They just knew that, whatever the reason, lawyers were depressed! Whatte wow!]

Fact 4: Against popular notion, depression is a physical illness. Though great resources in research and clinical science have been devoted to depression in the past few decades, we can neither cure it nor fully explain it. What we can do is describe its general characteristics.

Lawyers, buckle up. Let’s take this seriously now.

Reasons for Depression among Lawyers

Daniel T. Lukasik, Managing Partner at the law firm Bernhardi Lukasik PLLC and author of LawyersWithDepression.com, being the victim of depression himself, points out various reasons for depression among lawyers, including that of (i) nature of work, (ii) pessimism, (iii) working against integrity, (iv) stress and anxiety and (v) not taking enough time to reflect.

Dan took almost 20 years to ask himself what he was doing all those years. No matter how hard he worked, he was always stressed. Like, most of us. He says, “People don’t appreciate the risks they are putting themselves in as lawyers, by chewing and eating and consuming stress on a daily basis. They don’t appreciate the risks they are putting themselves in for anxiety disorder or clinical depression. Lot of people don’t appreciate that depression is a physical illness.

Looking at the reasons pointed out by Dan for a moment, one would actually think the list isn’t complete when it comes lawyers in Indian scenario. Just think about it. How stressful is for a lawyer to survive here? How stressful is for a lawyer to sustain here? Stop these monotonous jokes on lawyers charging hefty fees, ask an ordinary lawyer who starts his profession, how stressful is to earn his livelihood?

Fine. Think about lawyers who are working in corporate firms who earn decent money. How stressful is the work culture there? More than that, what stress-busters are available to them? Timesheets, targets, results and accountability. Yes, all these things are prevalent in every profession now. But the nature of work, once again, distinguishes the legal profession from other profession. Loss of appetite and sleep deprivation are very normal among these lawyers. Just that they don’t know it is due to depression.

Depression can be contagious as well. One more set back for lawyers. More often than not, a lawyer comes across depressed persons on a regular basis. Let that be clients, fellow colleagues, family, officers of the court and sometimes even judges.

Even the dress code lawyers wear is depressing (There I said it!).

To put it precisely, we are on survival mode, always.

Blessing in Utter Disguise

“I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face left on earth.” – Abraham Lincoln

Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of the best-selling book “Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Fueled a President to Greatness”, after immense research on Abraham Lincoln, the lawyer-turned-President, notes that Lincoln suffered from depression his entire life. Not just an ordinary depression. Besides his own battle with deepened sadness, depression and suicidal instincts, he lost three out of his four sons at their earlier age (two sons died when he was in office). Shenk notes that only his sufferings led him to a profound understanding of the unspeakable tragedy of war and that understanding enabled Lincoln to preserve and triumph in the face of America’s most devastating crisis.

Depression is like, the ultimate test. It is a blessing in utter disguise. It brings out the best in you, if you can stand against it. It helps you understand the life better than anybody else would. At the same time, it brings out the worst in you, if you fail to stand against it.

[I would trade small happiness over this ‘understanding the life’ anytime though.]

Recovery

There are many things one can do to avoid or to recover from the depression. Very simple things, like:

1. Eat. Even if sky has to fall, eat your meal and move.

2. Sleep. Weekend parties are just fine but sleep for at least 7 hours on week days.

3. Meet people outside legal profession. And tell them you’re not there to give legal advise.

4. Spend time with your family.

5. Reach out to people and say ‘hi’. It is extremely important to reach out to your fellow colleagues if they feel left out at any point of time.

6. If it is an urgent situation for clients, stop panicking and give your best. It is not your house burning anyway.

7. Be realistic. Stick to your instincts (Dhoni way). Try and develop optimistic instincts (Not really the Dhoni way).

8. Once in a while, scream.

9. More than once in a while, dance.

10. And do understand, as Studs Terkel would put it, Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”

At the end of the day, what matters the most is living. Cheers!