The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Women and the Law
The relationship between women and depression
“I just want to feel like myself again.” This is a statement I often hear from clinically depressed clients. Not only are they experiencing depressive symptoms but they are often angry with themselves. Many of these individuals thought that they could just “get over it” or would “snap out of it.” These unrealistic personal expectations are a part of a running theme I have seen over the past several years working with female lawyers.
Why would someone wait and live in discomfort rather than get help for their depression? Perhaps, as in the case of some lawyers, it is that they have been trained in law school to be analytical and may over time minimize the importance of emotional health. Maybe it is because they have experienced similar symptoms of depression in the past and found a way out of it. It may also be that the stigma of depression is still present in certain professions and they do not understand the disorder or that there is a path to recovery.
One criterion used to determine what type of depression a person is experiencing is based on how long the symptoms have been present. The diagnosis of depression involves several factors including a noticeably diminished interest in previously enjoyed activities, sleep disruption, increased weight loss or gain, loss of energy and concentration problems for at least two weeks. Complicating biological factors include the effect of Estrogen levels on mood. An abrupt drop in this hormone will cause depressive symptoms such as in premenstrual conditions of post-pregnancy while elevated levels are linked to feelings of well being. Most women have experienced symptoms of depression at some point and may believe that since they have experienced something similar in the past, the symptoms will subside on their own. This may cause a delay in talking to a professional about these feelings.
Whether chemical or environmental factors are at the core, women across all Western countries are twice as likely to experience depression than men. There is little to dispute here since the research has been extensive. Each situation however, has unique onsets, facets and players. Episodes of depression must be examined in the contexts in which they exist, which is to say that to successfully diagnose and treat the depression we must understand the circumstances surrounding it. This requires the person suffering from depression to reach out for help and participate in her own treatment. However, many successful, intelligent women will still judge themselves harshly and do their best to hide their symptoms rather than call a professional. “I made a deal with myself to just get through to lunchtime- then I can go out to my car and cry,” said one of my clients.
Female lawyers are very good at showing only their professional side. They can look so good on the outside that their colleagues, family and friends may not see the pain behind their eyes. “It’s been six months since my mother died. I should be better by now,” one woman said while angrily wiping her tears away. Ignoring the symptoms of depression will not make them go away. This woman initially thought that she would just focus on work but became frustrated that she could not concentrate on her cases. She became overwhelmed by simple tasks that used to be easy and even enjoyable to her. It was a concerned colleague who got her to make the call. After just a few sessions, she noted the dramatic change in her outlook.
The most important thing to note about depression is how treatable it is. The first step is to call a psychologist or a psychiatrist to get an evaluation. After learning all about you they can recommend a course of action to address the symptoms and the problems. There is no reason to suffer unnecessarily. However, just because you are unhappy does not mean that you are clinically depressed or that medication will help. Antidepressants work on relieving the symptoms of depression to allow you to move forward and make healthy choices. If you continue making bad decisions or have disappointing circumstances in your life, you will likely continue to feel lousy.
It comes down to this: Are your depressive symptoms impacting your relationships, work and/or how you feel about yourself? Has there been a significant difference in your ability to get up in the morning or do the things you used to do? Are you noticing that you are exhausted even after a good night of sleep? If you are tired of living with feelings of misery, please reach out for help. I am one of many professionals who would love to help you ease the pain and get back to life.
I wish this article were longer. I wish I could give you more information and share stories of hope and recovery. Maybe next time. If you are interested in getting an evaluation, a referral or to discuss your situation, you can contact me at Illinois Lawyers’ Assistance Program at 312-726-6607. ■or call the