Attorneys suffer from depression at a rate of four times that of the general population, according to a Johns Hopkins study. A documentary http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSKpA7c9ETs features four lawyers and a former judge discussing their personal experiences with depression. Several national experts are also interviewed, including Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of the best-selling book “Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Fueled a President to Greatness.” A renowned trial lawyer before becoming president, Lincoln
suffered from depression his entire life. The film provides hope and resources for those who may be suffering in silence.
A Terrible Melancholy is a documentary about lawyers with depression, but it’s relevant to anyone trying to understand more about the illness. Dan Lukasik, a lawyer who has lived with depression for the past ten years, produced the film to encourage others in his profession to seek help.
The message is on target for anyone in high-stress work, and today that means just about everyone.
The barriers for lawyers to be open about their illness are hard to overcome, although they are not unique to that profession. Several attorneys describe their personal struggles and the aspects of legal practice that contribute to the problem.
Lawyers are trusted by their clients to guide them confidently through conflict, to be absolutely reliable and able to solve difficult problems. It is not expected to see a lawyer succumb to an illness most people think of as purely emotional.
There is a career risk in opening up but also the inner reluctance to admit to depression. Part of the film tells the story of a law student who kept his condition to himself and ultimately committed suicide. As one of his friends says in the film, they didn’t have the “emotional awareness” to recognize the symptoms.
That’s not unusual. As Dan Lukasik says, he didn’t know what depression was when it first hit him. Without an understanding of what it is, the illness is especially frightening. Your life can seem to be falling apart.
The full 30-minute video is available at “A Terrible Melancholy: Depression in the Legal Profession” on Vimeo. It’s quite an interesting video, which would be of value to watch by a lawyer or non-lawyer, by a person with depression or not. For one thing, it depicts the terrible toll of stress on our bodies, which can bring all sorts of physical, mental, and emotional afflictions, like depression. I highly recommend watching it.