Lawyers probably work in one of the most stressful environments that exist. If they are in private practice, they have the stress of working to provide their clients the information, advice and services that the client is looking for when the client wants it. If they are in-house counsel or in the public sector, they have employers, bosses who want information, advice and strategy when they need it, not on the lawyers’ schedule. As well, lawyering is such that sometimes there does not seem to be any clocks and everything else can be put aside including family, friends and one’s own personal well-being.
When a lawyer starts feeling in trouble, the typical knee-jerk reaction is “I cannot admit that I am in trouble because I will be in danger of losing my position or be disparaged for being weak”.
So, the individual doesn’t say anything and continues on. Ultimate extreme reaction is that the person simply loses it entirely and takes some drastic action that can destroy their life. They do something bizarre, as it’s the only way that they can draw attention to their plight. Case in point – a University Professor known to be highly competent and highly liked, out of the blue attacked his wife with a knife. It turned out that he was deeply depressed and highly stressed. His bizarre conduct was a cry for help that was heard, but it also destroyed his career!!
The culture must be that it is okay for lawyers to seek help. They do not have to solve everything themselves.
Help can be found in a way that does not expose the person.
A short anecdote can illustrate clearly how this might come to pass. A lawyer who worked 14 to 16 hour days and was doing so for years was struggling, and was not getting help. Driving down the freeway one day when somebody cut him off he got angry and started chasing the person. He was stopped for excessive speeding. When the police officer came to this car, the lawyer was shaking and told the police officer he really didn’t understand why he had done what he did. The police officer reduced the speeding ticket but said to the individual, “I really suggest that you go talk to somebody.” The lawyer was so shocked by this incident he went to his family doctor who referred him to a psychologist.
The lawyer started working with the psychologist and his family doctor. Within twelve months, the lawyer was back on track with a completely different perspective. The lawyer was able to do this without having to announce it to the world. He was able to share his story with the people he needed to and trusted. The point of this story is twofold. One, you can’t deal with the issues of stress and depression by yourself. You need to reach out. Secondly, you can do this reaching out in a way that can be handled with discretion.
The challenge remains for all of us to accept that depression is like a broken leg, it is an ailment that needs treatment and care and you do get better! We must all fight the stigma that surrounds mental illness and remind the world that it is simply an illness like any other!
Written by John D.V. Hoyles
John Hoyles is the Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Bar Association, Vice-Chair of the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation who put on the boxing match between MP Justin Trudeau and Senator Patrick Brazeau and is an avid golfer.