“I suffer from depression,” reported Joseph Milowic, a partner at the Quinn Emanuel, just last March in his article in the New York Law Journal. What prompted his disclosure? Milowic hopes to remove the stigma associated with discussing mental illness in the legal profession. What better way to do that than by having a partner at a large international law firm admit to the diagnosis? So far the impact seems to be significant.
American Bar Association President Hilarie Bass commented that Milowic’s confession was a call to action. She urged law firms to focus and educate about attorney well-being and to emphasize that mental health is “an indispensable part of a lawyer’s competence.” The ABA has responded by creating the Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession, whose goal is to help law firms create policies that support lawyer mental health. Those policies are due to be released later this year.
The concept of lawyers having depression is not new. Plenty of studies demonstrate that lawyers have a higher rate of depression than any other profession, including a Johns Hopkins study in 1990, and a 2016 study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, reporting that 28 percent of attorneys suffer from depression. More recently, a University of Toronto study concluded that “higher-status lawyers in large firms report more depression than lower-status lawyers.”
Law schools also report that depression is common among the student population. In an effort to get students talking about it, the website Above the Law has featured student stories about struggles with law school and mental health issues. The idea behind posting the stories was to illustrate that students with depression are not alone. “Sometimes what law students need is to know that they’ve got a friend who is willing to share not just in their triumphs, but also in their struggles.”
Talking about depression seems to be the first step both toward removing the stigma and for getting help. Lawyers need to talk about mental health, says blogger Toya Gavin. She goes on to recommend several ideas for the profession to get lawyers to address their symptoms, including
- conducting clinics and counseling sessions at the ABA conventions,
- offering law school classes devoted to mental health and self-care, and
- providing free sessions with a therapist when you pay yearly bar admission fees.
Bottom line, seek out someone to talk with about how you are feeling. Joe Milowic has even offered to have attorneys contact him in confidence with questions or to join an online support group for attorneys who suffer from depression—firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-849-7225.