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The Magazine of Illinois Lawyers

October 2018Volume 106Number 10Page 10

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President's Page

A Better You

Seeking help is within your grasp. All you need to do is ask.

James F. McCluskey

Formed earlier this year, ISBA's Health and Wellness Committee is planning discussions, presentations, and webinars about mental health. Mental health issues affect all socio-economic classes, career types, genders, ethnicities, and races. Among the most persistent and pervasive mental health conditions are depression and anxiety.

Some jobs may be more depression-prone than others. Nursing home and child care workers, food services staff, social workers, healthcare workers, artists, writers, entertainers, administrative support staff, maintenance staff, financial advisors, accountants, salespeople, and, especially, lawyers are all subject to higher rates of depression.

Nearly 50 percent of attorneys either struggle with or exhibit symptoms of depression or anxiety, according to the 2016 ABA Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation study. When mental health issues are left untreated, they can lead to more serious and less manageable outcomes, with substance abuse and suicide being at the top.

There are many causes of depression: brain chemistry imbalances, hormonal fluctuations, sleep rhythm disturbances, physical health issues, drugs and alcohol, stressful life events, grief, and loss. Feelings of failure and low self-esteem may also exacerbate depression. Any of these-alone or in combination with myriad other factors-may cause or contribute to depression.

Just by being burdened with the problems of other people on a daily basis, lawyers are susceptible to depression. Depression, in turn, may affect an attorney's ability to cope with clients, the court system, colleagues, and the ability to practice law. Common symptoms of depression may include despondency, a downcast mood, decreased enjoyment, changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, hyperactivity, lethargy, agitation, a feeling of isolation and worthlessness, a flat affect, and the inability to concentrate. Each of these symptoms can lead to professional failure in the legal profession.

However, depression is treatable, especially when detected in the early stages.

More than one way to seek help

The Lawyers' Assistance Program (LAP), your family doctor, a licensed clinical therapist, a counselor, and social workers are trained to treat depression (as well as alcohol and drug addiction). Many treatments are available, including therapy and medication. Most physicians who prescribe medication to treat depression or anxiety also will recommend accompanying therapy.

Therapy can be a vital treatment to the causes of depression. While an anti-depressant may lift your mood and treat a chemical imbalance in your brain, it may not be enough to reverse negative thought patterns that have encased your outlook on life. Therapists, counselors, and social workers are trained to help you develop ways to reframe your outlook and challenge negative thinking.

Seeing a professional does not lead to life-long visits. It does not brand you as a failure. It simply provides access to a professional who is trained to recognize whether you are suffering from depression or anxiety and equip you with resources and skills to manage, and recover from, your suffering.

As lawyers, we have relied on mentors, counselors, and educators to help us learn the skills to practice law. Seeking professional help for depression and its symptoms is not a sign of failure, it is a life skill. It is a skill that will help you discover new ways of doing things. You will become a more capable lawyer, client advocate, and professional. Accepting help to manage and address your depression will not only lead to professional improvement, you will become a better spouse, friend, neighbor, and family member.

If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, please consider seeking a professional for help. A better outlook on life awaits you.

The Health and Wellness Committee will do everything possible to serve ISBA members in navigating the stress that comes with the practice of law. I am sincerely looking forward to working with the committee and ISBA members in the year to come.

I wish to thank Maureen P. Tamillow, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Registered Dual Diagnosis Professional (Addictions Specialist), Professional Licensed Educator, and member of the ISBA's Health and Wellness Committee for providing insights that informed this article. You can learn more about Maureen at www.mtamillowtherapy.com.