You’re on an airplane. Turbulence shakes the plane and the oxygen masks come down. The pilot’s voice crackles throughout the cabin for everyone to put on their mask. What do you do? You put on the mask, right? You aren’t afraid it will make you look weak. You don’t beat yourself up thinking “if only I were stronger, my lungs wouldn’t need this help.” Of course not. You take the help offered so you can breathe.
So why, when life is shaken by depression, anxiety, stress, or trauma, do lawyers have such a hard time seeking or accepting the help they need? According to ABA research, 28 percent of licensed, employed lawyers have depression and 19 percent have symptoms of anxiety. Most of us, at one time or another, will be overwhelmed by life events – the death of a spouse or child, having to care for a parent, or being diagnosed with a serious illness. Yet too many lawyers fail to seek help. We insist we can deal with it on our own. Why?
If you have diabetes, you take insulin. If you have a treatable cancer, you do chemotherapy or other recommended treatment. Likewise, if you have depression or anxiety or are thinking about suicide, you need to get treatment. Why do so many lawyers wait until their relationships, families, or work are suffering?
This is what I often hear:
I’m smart enough to figure this out on my own. Yes, you are smart and a natural problem solver. But your intellect and hard work cannot solve a cancer diagnosis. Why would you think it would solve depression? Do your research. Talk to the professionals, and get the help you need.
If I seek treatment, it will hurt my license. Wrong. If you call your doctor or the State Bar’s Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP), the call is confidential. Nothing is put on your “record” or noted on your license. The point of getting treatment is to help you manage and flourish in your professional and personal life – and to prevent anything that might scar your record or reputation.
I can’t risk the stigma. I wish I could say there was no risk, but we all know less-informed members of the old guard who wrongly believe seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness (they also have backward ideas about women, lawyers of color, and LGBTQ+ lawyers, but that’s a different article). What is the alternative? You remain miserable and overstressed. You risk your marriage or other relationships. The situation becomes worse and other people learn that something is going on because of missed deadlines, client complaints, or other problems. Do not let fear of stigma keep you from doing what is needed for yourself, your family, and your clients.
Depression, anxiety, and other brain disorders are physical health issues. If you are feeling depressed or overwhelmed or are thinking about suicide, please do not let pride or fear keep you from seeking treatment. For additional information, see “Ethics Rules Protect Calls for WisLAP Help” in this issue.