Depression, suicide, and other mental health issues continue to plague the legal profession in numbers that far outstrip the general population. It is an issue of which the profession, and everyone in it, needs to be aware.
Simply stated, the legal profession is prone to higher incidences of depression than the general population. One study in 1990 by Johns Hopkins University found that lawyers as a group are nearly four times more likely to suffer from depression than the average person.
As many as one in four lawyers suffer from psychological distress, including anxiety, social alienation, isolation, and depression. Intense deadlines, staggering billable-hour requirements, and grinding hours are routine. The conflict-driven nature of the profession also plays a role, as does traditional legal training, which conditions lawyers to be emotionally withdrawn, a trait that can help them professionally but hurt them personally.
Additionally, lawyers are known to be high achievers, perfectionists, and workaholics, all of which can lead to high stress and depression rates. According to a 1991 Johns Hopkins University study of 105 professions, lawyers top the list in the incidence of major depression.
Depression and the Legal Mind
Psychologist Martin Seligman notes that the legal profession is unique in that, it is the only profession where pessimists—those who see problems as the norm and not the exception—out-perform optimists. According to Seligman, the legal profession calls for caution, skepticism, and anticipation that things will go wrong. “Unfortunately, what makes for a good lawyer may make for an unhappy human being” (quoted in “The Dirty Secret in the Lives of Lawyers” by Stephen M. Terrell, Res Gestae, June 2006). As such, we must be on the lookout to protect ourselves and our colleagues from the adverse consequences of such tendencies.
Lawyers seem to have a particular reluctance to seek help for depression and mental health issues because they are concerned about appearing weak or negatively affecting their reputation. Lawyers we may be, but we are human, after all. In 2004 a study was completed at Cottonwood de Tucson, a behavioral health treatment center in Arizona, where lawyers recovering from mental illness were interviewed. These individuals indicated that one main obstacle preventing them from accessing care was that they believed they could handle it on their own. Additionally, these lawyers were afraid that seeking help would negatively impact their reputation.
Dealing with a mental illness does not make a lawyer less intelligent, less strong, or any less of an attorney. In many instances, it takes more courage to seek assistance than to stay silent. Anyone practicing in the field of law should not be afraid to speak up if they are battling a form of mental illness. We must make sure that we assist ourselves and our colleagues to access help whenever necessary.
But just what is depression, and how do we know if we, or someone close to us, is suffering from it? Depression is not simply being sad or having “the blues.” Depression is a gut-wrenching, debilitating, hopeless despair that impacts every phase of life. It is a deep trench. No matter how many people tell you what a beautiful world there is outside the trench, you simply cannot see it.
Depression is not just emotional, but physical. Those who suffer depression may have an imbalance or inadequacy in certain chemicals in the brain that regulate mood (serotonin is the most commonly known). The condition is no different than a diabetic’s inability to process sugar. But the effect of depression does not have an easily measurable physical manifestation such as blood sugar level. Rather, depression is a complex syndrome that produces behavior that alienates its victims from their friends, family, and coworkers. And this alienation exacerbates the isolation, driving the depression deeper and deeper.
Deprived of needed interaction with others, the lawyer withdraws into his or her own thoughts. It becomes a deadly spiral.
What are the signs of depression? The seven most common warning signs of depression consist of the following:
- Loss of interest in almost all activities
- Loss of pleasure or enjoyment in what were enjoyable activities
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Significant weight gain or loss without dieting
- Feelings of worthlessness
You should never attempt any treatment for health concerns before consulting with your doctor, and this holds especially true for mental disorders such as depression.
Our mental health is just as integral to our wellbeing and success as our physical health. The mind-body connection indicates that many times, when we’re sad, stressed, or overwhelmed, our bodies will suffer physical symptoms to reflect that.
When exploring how to overcome depression, there are several methods that can be used to effectively treat this disorder.
- Using Medication
The first method is medication. The most commonly prescribed medication for depressive disorders are antidepressants. Antidepressants are something that can be prescribed by your doctor, but your doctor will need to assess the state of your mental health first.
Medication can be a powerful and constructive tool in helping people navigate the difficult and overwhelming waters of depression. It can be used as the stepping stone that helps those in need get to a healthier and happier emotional place that enables them to pursue other avenues of assistance.
- Physical Exercise
Physical exercise is one of the most tried and tested methods of dealing with depression. It has a wealth of physical and emotional benefits:
- Helps prevent heart disease and stroke
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces body fat
- Strengthens the cardiovascular system
- Reduces inflammation
- Increases circulation
- Boosts energy
- Regulates circadian rhythms
- Reduces depression
- Reduces anxiety
- Eat Mood-Boosting Foods
Eating the right foods at the right time can do wonders to boost your mood and elevate your spirits.
These good-mood foods have been proven to help regulate the neurochemical imbalance that often accompanies depression. If you want to know how to overcome depression with food, here are a few depression-busting snacks to include in your diet:
- Lean proteins, like turkey and chicken
- Fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, and mackerel
- Low fat dairy, like skim milk and low-fat cheeses and yogurts
- Dark chocolate
The real secret behind most of these depression-fighting foods? The boost of omega-3s they provide for your body and brain. More omega-3s means a healthier, happier brain.
- Breaking Away From Routine
One of the situational contributors to depression is being stuck in the rut of routine. It can be challenging to step away from our day-to-day obligations and circumstances, but sometimes that’s precisely what’s needed to change our state of mind.
Try taking a different route to work. Visit a restaurant for lunch you’ve never been to. Sample a new cuisine. Book a personal day and take a mini-road trip.
It may feel intimidating to step away from what you’re accustomed to, but trust that while yes, your routine may feel safe and predictable, it’s also not challenging you with new and exciting experiences.
Incredible things can be found when we’re willing to leave our comfort zones.
- Try Out Guided Meditation
If you would like to learn how to overcome depression and battle back the blues, one of the most powerful resources available are guided meditations.
Many meditations exist that address anxiety and depressive disorders. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, why not try the video below. It won’t take up too much of your time, and may provide the relief you need to help you get through the day.
Learning how to overcome depression on your own is also possible. Depression can leave us feeling hopeless, inadequate, exhausted, and overcome. However, the path to better health and happiness may be closer than you think.
Never give up on yourself. Remember that you have the power and strength to navigate even the most turbulent of storms.
Stay present in each moment. Listen to your heart and body. Attune to the challenges that are individual to your present circumstances.
The way out of depression is a journey that can only be taken a single step at at time. Rest assured, this journey is well worth the effort.
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