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About DepressionDepression Casts A Shadow on the Law   

Depression Casts a Shadow on the Law
New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program offers help
For years, Dave had a solo office in Morris County. It wasn't anything fancy, but it paid the bills and provided for his family.
Then, he said, the dark times came. He didn't return phone calls. He didn't send out bills. He didn't open mail.
Eventually, authorities suspended his law license.
"Life collapsed on me and I broke. I just shut down," said Dave, who, like others interviewed for this article, asked that his full name not be used.
Depression is a constant and sometimes debilitating companion for many. And research suggests it is even more prevalent in the legal ranks than in other professions.
Study after study has shown that attorneys suffer the highest rates of depression among workers. A Johns Hopkins University study two decades ago noted almost 20 percent of attorneys suffer from depression - nearly twice the national average. And more recent findings, including those of University of Arizona and University of Washington researchers, show the numbers haven't diminished among those in the legal field.
"The law can be stressful. It is full of deadlines. In today's economy, the financial pressures are increasing, and there are long hours," said William Kane, the director of the New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program.  "Any combination of those factors can come together to leave a person suffering with depression."
No one knows exactly why lawyers experience such high rates of depression.
Some experts suggest that the nature of the adversarial legal system could contribute to high depression rates. The law, they note, is competitive. And it requires lawyers to get involved in the gritty details of what are most often stressful disputes, challenging negotiations or cases that involve a person's liberty.
"As a lawyer... there is a person on the opposite side of you whose sole job is to undo what you are doing. Not many people have that," said Daniel Lukasik, who created lawyerswithdepression.com and is a practicing lawyer diagnosed with clinical depression.

In New Jersey, the Lawyers Assistance Program, a partner organization of the New Jersey State Bar Association, helps lawyers, law students and judges struggling with depression.
It originally emphasized helping people in the legal profession with substance abuse problems. But even from the start, officials said saw clients also suffering form depression. As a result, the program expanded its services, said Kane.
These days, depression is second only to alcohol as the primary issue people seek help to address, according to the program's most recent statistics.
The program offers confidential counseling and referral services to other professionals and has a pair of support groups - one each for men and women - that focus only on depression issues, said program clinician Denise Golonka.

For some, like Dave, who has been involved with the men's support group for years, the only choice was to leave the law.
Since then, he has worked as a fishmonger, cared for his mother during her final years, and worked as a personal driver.
But for others, like Jenna, a central Jersey lawyer, leaving the law was never an option, even at the times when she considered suicide.
About five years ago, she nearly crashed as depression closed in on her. During work hours, she could answer calls or respond to faxes, but outside of the office she withdrew from her family and was barely functioning.
"I felt like I was in a void," she said. "I couldn't find happiness or joy."
It wasn't until there was a problem with a client's file that she sought help.
Now, she has adopted a number of strategies to make working in the legal profession viable. She is an active member of the assistance program's support groups. She stopped handling divorce and bankruptcy cases because the stress of her clients was taking a toll on her. And she keeps lists and uses different colored pens to prioritize her work projects.
She has also reached out to other attorneys when she sees signs they may be suffering the way she has.
"I tell them there is a way to work through it.  ... This is an illness that is manageable," she said.


This article was first published in the July 20, 2009 issue of the New Jersey Law Journal.  Copyright 2009. Incisive Media US Properties, LLC.  All rights reserved.  Further duplication without permission is prohibited.