The practice of law can be very stressful, and for lawyers who suffer from depression, it can be deadly.
Oregon like many states across the nation has lost a number of good attorneys to suicide. The Oregon State Bar Bulletin February/March 2015 issue had an excellent article, “From Stigma to Safety Net Attorney Suicides Initiate Nationwide Conversation About Mental Health and Prevention,” by Melody Finnemore. In it, she states that depression often takes root during law school. As a former high school and middle school teacher, I can say that it takes root far sooner than law school.
What pushes people? For some, there is an inner hole that cannot be filled. No acquisition, no achievement is good enough to take away the pain of not being enough. Some turn to self medicating with alcohol and drugs. But sooner or later, without some intervention by mental health care professionals, including drug and alcohol counselors, something terrible is going to happen.
What can we do? We can pay better attention to our colleagues – and to our families and friends. Put down the iPhone and iPad and look at the person while listening. We each give a great gift when we are truly present to others. If you need to shore up these skills, consider mindfulness meditation training. You will notice a difference in your relationship. If being heard is becoming a rarity in your office and home, do some mindful listening, which is listening without waiting for the pauses to interject your agenda or well-intentioned advice. There is time for both later. First, just listen.
Are there signs to watch for that may signal trouble? There are resources available nationally and locally. The article mentioned above has a helpful sidebar, “Signs to Look for Ways to Help.” The American Association of Suicidology has an entire page devoted to warning signs and a mnemonic IS PATH WARM? Ideation; Substance Abuse; Purposelessness; Anxiety; Trapped; Hopelessness; Withdrawal; Anger; Recklessness; Mood Changes.
Here in Oregon, we are fortunate to have the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP) with four caring attorney counselors, Shari Gregory, Kyra Hazilla, Mike Long, and Doug Querin. If you are struggling or concerned that someone you care about is struggling, their services are confidential and free. It doesn’t get much better than that! Nationally, the American Bar Association has the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (COLAP)where you can find resources and links to programs available in other states and provinces.
And how about yourself? Are you headed for becoming a lawyer in distress? You can and should Knock Out Burnout! You and your friends and family will be glad that you did!