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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. Applause, applause, applause ..... but, is this duty to serve the constitutional order not much more incumbent upon the State, whose only aim is to be pure and unadulterated justice, than defense counsel, who is also charged with gaining a result for a client? I agree both are responsible, but it seems to me that the government attorneys bear a burden much heavier than defense counsel .... "“I note, much as we did in Mechling v. State, 16 N.E.3d 1015 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014), trans. denied, that the attorneys representing the State and the defendant are both officers of the court and have a responsibility to correct any obvious errors at the time they are committed."

  2. Do I have to hire an attorney to get co-guardianship of my brother? My father has guardianship and my older sister was his co-guardian until this Dec 2014 when she passed and my father was me to go on as the co-guardian, but funds are limit and we need to get this process taken care of quickly as our fathers health isn't the greatest. So please advise me if there is anyway to do this our self or if it requires a lawyer? Thank you

  3. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  4. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  5. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

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