I don’t know about you, but this time of year makes me want to stay under the covers and act like a hibernating bear. Yes, the cold gray days bring on the winter blues. It takes energy and real motivation to get myself out of the cave, but once I do, I’m back to being a contributing member of the human race and getting satisfaction and enjoyment from my activities. But that’s not true for all of us. For some, getting out of the cave can feel like an impossible labor.
Blues vs. Depression: Be Alert for the Signs
Studies find that lawyers suffer depression significantly more often than the general population—about 3.6 times more often. Depression is a serious illness that can have a tremendous impact on your professional and personal life. And unlike the winter blues, depression stays with you, no matter the temperature and amount of sunlight outside. Please look over the following signs of depression. Are you experiencing any of these?
- Inability to concentrate
- Finding previously easy tasks difficult
- Sleep changes, which can mean too little or too much sleep
- Feeling hopeless and helpless
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Inability to control negative thoughts despite great effort
- Appetite or weight changes
- Irritability or restlessness
- Unexplained aches or pains
- Loss of energy
- Thoughts that life is not worth living
All of us have experienced at least some of these in our lifetime, but when such feelings seem overwhelming or last for an extended time, they are the red flags of clinical depression. Depression is an insidious disease: It can creep up slowly, and you may not realize that you suffer from it. Be aware, too, that alcohol and substance abuse often accompany depression because the abuse seems to provide a form of self-medication.
If you do recognize that you have depression, take action. First, know that it is okay to ask for help—actually, it is very wise and intelligent to do so. Second, be assured that help does exist—and you are not alone. Many, many lawyers currently experience or have already overcome the same thing.
Where to Start
It may feel awful and like it will never end, but with assistance, what you feel now will go away. You can have a satisfying life, enjoying daily activities and interpersonal relationships again. Here’s where to start looking for help:
- A major resource for all lawyers is your state or local bar association’s lawyer assistance program. (The ABA has a directory of state programs here.)
- Your personal physician can also be a tremendous help and refer you to psychiatrists and therapists who can help you.
- If your employer has an employee assistance program, you have a ready resource as one of your standard benefits.
- If you have just begun to feel depressed, exercise can greatly help reduce depression symptoms. (See WebMD.com for more pointers.)
- Find a trusted friend or relative and share with him how you feel. Having someone to talk openly with will help you feel less anxious and alone.
Most of all, should depression and other, related issues such as alcohol or substance abuse affect you, know that professional assistance can make a very positive impact on your life, and the lives of those you love.
Marcia Pennington Shannon is Assistant Dean, Office of Career Strategy at Georgetown University Law Center and Chair of the Shannon Group. She has more than 30 years of experience in lawyer career and professional development. In addition to her expertise in career transitions for lawyers at all levels, she has extensive experience in career advising and performance and executive coaching, especially focused on those in leadership and management roles. Marcia is the author of The Lawyer’s Career Management Handbook: Your Bridge to a Satisfying Career.
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