Epidemic of Depressed Lawyers!

This is no joke!
I am not posting about trucking specific topics today because I am out of the office on an “ancestry search” with my seventy-nine year old father, who recently suffered the passing of his girlfriend of over 30 years.
Yes, “girlfriend.” He never married her, but he was with her longer than he was married to my mother. As you can imagine, he suffered with extreme depression, but eventually, he went to his “go to” medication: alcohol.
I am fifty one. My entire memory of my father is associated with alcohol. I have never seen him go a day without a drink. He often drinks a “Bloody Mary” or “Screwdriver” in the morning. He drinks beer, wine and, of course, “hard liquor.” He drinks in the afternoon and evening, but he is a “functional alcoholic” in the sense that he was always able to work.
No matter, every night before coming home, my father would stop off at the “Rusty Nail”, “The Pirogue Lounge” or  “The Hob Nob”. Now, he haunts “Shenannigans.” These are places where he has friends. Where “everyone knows your name.”
I don’t know why my father has always drunk alcohol. Perhaps, he has dealt with depression or anxiety or some other uncomfortable emotion. Who would know?
I have never been a heavy drinker, but I could see how I could. I have learned that I have a condition called “dysthymia.” I thought I was just a moody-blues kid because I have always been a bit melancholy, but now I know it’s more than that. The number one cause of depression is genetics, but as I said, who would know that my father was depressed since he drank all the time? When he drinks, he is a “happy drunk.” He is not mean, rude or belligerent. He IS the life of the party: telling jokes, dancing, laughing.
His life partner died of alcohol neuropathy. He would never admit that during her final days. Even now, unless he is in a particularly emotional mood, he will not admit that she struggled with alcohol. He will certainly never admit that he struggles with alcohol. How can it be a struggle if he functions well? How would anyone know if he functions well without a substance if he has never been without a substance?
Because of a multitude of more recent  life stressors, my “general melancholy” mood morphed into full blown a chronic  major depression disorder. For me, it was never to the point of incapacity; however, it was very real. I thought it was all situational. I thought, “When the cash flow improves, my mood will improve.” When things are better with staff, attorneys, work, family, etc, then my mood would improve.
Perhaps another time, I will talk about the struggles that I had with “getting help” for this mood disorder because of the stigma. Because I am a Christian, I am SUPPOSED to have the “joy of the Lord.” Because I am an attorney, I am SUPPOSED to handle this. Others do!
Do they?

A colleague Stuart Mauney, noted the following:
In a period of 18 months, six lawyers committed suicide in South Carolina.  In late 2008, a student at the Charleston (SC) School of Lawcommitted suicide.  Around that same time, a student at the USC School of Law died of alcohol poisoning.  Recent studies show that lawyers are three times as likely to suffer from depression as members of other professions.  The rate of substance abuse among lawyers is twice that of the general population. 
The quality of life survey by the North Carolina Bar Association in 1991 revealed that almost 26% of respondents exhibited symptoms of clinical depression, and almost 12% said they contemplated suicide at least once a month. (Michael J. Sweeney, The Devastation of Depression; research conducted by Campbell University)
The North Carolinastudy was prompted in part by “the tragic suicides of eight Mecklenburg Countylawyers in a seven year period.”  (“Reclaiming our Roots – Understanding Law as a ‘Learned Profession’ and ‘High Calling’,” The North Carolina State Bar Journal (Spring 2009), Carl Horn, III)
Surveys of lawyers in Washingtonand Arizonashow that most lawyers suffering from depression also had suicidal thoughts.  (Depression Among Lawyers, 33 Colorado Lawyer 35 (January 2004)). 
In 2006, suicide was the third leading cause of death among attorneys, after cancer and heart disease.  The rate of death by suicide for lawyers is nearly six times the suicide rate for the general population. 
Allison Jones, an attorney that I have opposed many times in the past, but also an attorney I respect immensely, said this about the topic of depression among attorneys:

This is a subject that deserves feedback.  

I think that stress management is the key.  I included in stress management overall wellness such: as (i)  exercising regularly…it doesn’t have to be much, it just has to be….just moving makes a person feel better; (ii) eating a healthy diet; (iii) Meditating or finding some other form for healthy relaxation; and (iv) developing good sleep habits.

Why are lawyers more prone than anyone else to the dangerous disease of depression?  Psychologist Lynn Johnson points to two personality traits many lawyers have: perfectionism and pessimism.  (Lynn Johnson, Stress Management, Utah State Bar Journal, January/February 2003).
Less intuitive than the prevalence of perfectionism is the prevalence of pessimismamong lawyers.  A Johns Hopkins study in 1990 showed that in all graduate school programs in all professional fields except one, optimists outperformed pessimists.  The one exception: law school. 
Pessimism helps lawyers excel: it makes us skeptical of what our clients, our witnesses, opposing counsel, and judges tell us.  It helps us anticipate the worst and thus prepare for it.  The pessimism is bad for our health: it leads to stress and disillusionment, which makes us vulnerable to depression.  (“Depression, The Lawyers’ Epidemic: How You Can Recognize the Signs,” Raymond P. Ward, 3/16/05). 
Well, this has been a very pessimistic post! I don’t want to leave it that. There is help. There is hope. I  believe every Bar Association is now dealing with this epidemic problem, but you need to check it out. If you’re not sure who to call, send me a message and I will get you the necessary resources.
In the meanime, keep on trucking (I know it’s a silly phrase, but it probably made you smile). If there is anything I can do for you in North Louisiana or Northeast Texas, let me know.
Mark Perkins
Perkins & Associates, LLC

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