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JLAP offers depression support for lawyers

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Dedication to clients, competitiveness, and a strong work ethic are qualities that many successful lawyers share. Those same traits may put attorneys at greater risk for major depression if they end up demanding more from themselves than they’re able to give.

Because their livelihoods depend on their ability to seem reliable and inspire confidence in their clients, some lawyers may worry that talking about their depression could hurt their careers. But people familiar with mental illness in the legal field say that lawyers are better off asking for help than dealing with depression on their own.

Lives lost

In 2010, lawyer Stephen Terrell lost his friend of nearly 30 years – Ron Hansell – to suicide. In a tribute to Hansell, Terrell wrote that when he was planning the first Indiana Solo & Small Conference 10 years ago, Hansell was his traveling companion. The two attended conferences around the Midwest, searching for speakers and learning the nuts and bolts of organizing such an event. That same year, Hansell moved to Montana.

Terry Harrell mug Harrell

Terry Harrell, executive director for the Indiana Supreme Court’s Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program (JLAP),

recalled Hansell’s contributions to Indiana’s legal community. “He stayed a member of the Indiana bar and would participate in that conference every year,” Harrell said. “When he died, it touched a huge number of lives.”

The treatment of depression, according to the American Association of Suicidology, is effective 60 to 80 percent of the time, but less than 25 percent of people with depression receive adequate treatment. Untreated depression may lead to other mental health problems, and it carries a greater risk of substance abuse and suicide.

Harrell said it’s difficult to estimate how many people in the legal profession suffer from depression, as some may never seek help, but she said that most seasoned lawyers know of someone in the profession who has died from suicide. And Terrell said most lawyers know of peers who have struggled with depression.

taylor Taylor-McGee

Psychologist Debra Taylor-McGee specializes in treating attorneys. She said that lawyers may resist seeking help for depression due to the nature of their jobs and societal views of mental illness.

While on the East or West coasts, people may be more open to talking about therapy, she said, “In the rest of the country, it’s seen as a weakness – if you have to go to someone for help, then something is wrong with you.”

She said depression is a combination of biochemical issues and environmental stressors, but lawyers may blame themselves for their symptoms.

“They see depression as more of a moral indictment that you’re not working hard enough,” she said.

Behavior patterns

Harrell runs a depression support group for JLAP. She said that many people seeking help are mid-career and in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Sometimes, they find their way to JLAP because they’ve lost control of their personal and professional lives, and in some cases, they’ve become unable to keep up with their caseload.

“When you have a severe depression it’s difficult to function, it’s hard to get out of bed, and so, eventually, they may not get their phone calls returned because they can’t get out of bed,” Harrell said.

She said that JLAP volunteers can help lawyers in need by doing something as simple as helping someone get through a pile of unopened mail or helping prioritize tasks. But Terrell said that when people are depressed, they behave in ways that alienate those who care about them – either intentionally or unintentionally – cutting themselves off from others who want to help.

“People withdraw into themselves, and when they withdraw into themselves, they don’t have that network of support … and you don’t have someone around assuring you that you will get through this, and it will get better down the road,” he said. The loneliness of depression may lead to repetitive, negative thoughts that eventually become overwhelming.

“You are left alone with your own thoughts, and those thoughts seem to be rational and make more and more sense, and you don’t see any other way out – and suicide seems like a logical, rational act,” Terrell said.

Harrell said that while depression can be debilitating, most of the time it is manageable.

terrell Terrell

New participants in JLAP’s depression support group may be surprised to see some familiar faces when they first attend a session. “They see a group of highly functional lawyers,” Harrell said. “They know them, and they had no idea.”

Avoiding depression

“A trait of lawyers is that we feel a tremendous responsibility for our clients and the quality of our work, and that can cause a lot of anxiety,” Harrell said. Anxiety is often a precursor to or a companion to depression. “Working super long hours and not taking enough time to take care of yourself will also set yourself up for depression,” she said.

Taylor-McGee said lawyers should make sure to treat themselves well, allowing adequate time for sleep, exercise, and social interactions. She said she has seen associates who – in an effort to increase billable time – have been working 60 to 80 hours a week.

“Lately I’ve been seeing some younger ones – in their 20s, their first or second year out of law school … They’re coming in and excitement is starting to wane,” she said. “They’re overworked, they don’t know how to please various partners. And so they’re just saying, ‘How do I do all of this?’”

She said her female lawyer patients are generally married with children and feel guilty that they’re not spending enough time with their children.

“With men, it’s family issues, but it’s more related to extended family pressures – paying off the bills, and ‘This isn’t what I thought it would be.’”

How JLAP can help

Through its network of volunteers, JLAP can help attorneys work through their depression and other issues in a confidential environment. JLAP began offering a series of volunteer training sessions on June 21, with five other sessions scheduled around the state through October.

“We don’t expect them to be mental-health clinicians,” Harrell said of JLAP’s volunteers. Training focuses on how to be a good listener and how to connect people with resources. But because many volunteers are attorneys themselves, JLAP staff encourages volunteers to simply say no when they are too busy to help.

“We try and make sure we don’t overload any one volunteer … we also try and only ask volunteers to do things that they are comfortable and qualified to do,” Harrell explained.

“We spend a significant amount of time on suicide prevention … although most cases don’t rise to the level of suicide,” Harrell said. “But when it does, what could be more important?”•
 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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