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Lawyers Battle Depression, Anxiety, and Fear

Burdine & Brown March 12, 2020

Chief Justice Harold D. Melton of the Georgia Supreme Court commended the State Bar of Georgia for reaching out to offer confidential counseling related to depression, stress, and alcohol and drug abuse among lawyers in Georgia.

The Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism will commence in April 2020 to discuss this issue statewide.

The Chief Justice stated: “I am also concerned about the mental health of our judges and lawyers. Our own dirty secret is that the job of dealing with society's problems, in addition to our own, sometimes takes a toll. We are often not healthy ourselves.”

(In 2018, Judge Stephen Goss, of the Court of Appeals of Georgia, died from suicide).

“We cannot assume we always know what is going on in the personal lives of others…it reminds us how important it is to reach out and care for one another, and learn specific ways we can respond to people we suspect might be considering taking their own lives. It also reminds us that we as a society still struggle to lift the stigma of mental illness that stands as a barrier preventing so many from getting the help they need.” (I believe that people are often afraid that if others know them as they are, they will be rejected).

A 2016 study conducted by the ABA and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation found that attorneys suffer from mental health disorders at a higher frequency than the general population:

  • 21% of employed attorneys qualify as problem drinkers;

  • 28% show signs of depression; and,

  • 19% exhibit signs of anxiety

What provokes us to alcoholism, depression, and anxiety to this degree? One answer is fear of pain and suffering. With ever-increasing pain-killing substances, we numb ourselves at the first sign of discomfort. Lawyers seem to have somewhat more disposable income so we surround ourselves with more options. More masks.

Our psychological pain grows. Our jobs are less satisfying, our moral principles diminish as we compromise to keep our clients, as we constantly pursue the billable hours and high pressure of law practice. We use drugs and alcohol to ignore, escape, avoid and deny personal pain and to avoid ever-increasing anxiety.

One way, frankly, the only way to deal with depression and anxiety is to cultivate an eternal perspective that anticipates suffering, fear, and anxiety before it arrives on our doorstep. We could then better respond to adversity than when it takes us by surprise. As said by Dr. Ken Boa in Shaped by Suffering, “We will still need the all-sufficient grace and strength of God at the moment, but like a ship that has readied its sails before the storm hits, we can position ourselves in advance so that we're braced and prepared rather than unsteady and vulnerable to being capsized.” (Pg. 73)

Difficulties will surely enter our lives and they are never too many or too few. God knows just how hot to heat the furnace of affliction. It is called the crucible of love. While difficulties are random and unexpected, we should always anticipate this happening.

Humility is one of the principles Jesus Christ exhibited. The Apostle Peter said we are to”…clothe ourselves” with humility (I Peter 5:5 NTV). Humility in facing fear, depression and anxiety is our acknowledgment that we will never know which trials will come or when they will come AND never overestimating our ability to stand firm (on our own) during these trials. Instead of being arrogant we should put our confidence and faith securely in Christ, relying on his grace and strength to help us.

As Scripture says, “Therefore, let him who thinks he stands to take heed that he does not fall.” (I Corinthians 10:12 NASB)

“Realization of our need to depend on God and not on ourselves is a major way God uses our anxiety, fears and disappointments to shape our character to be more like his Son's.” (Ken Boa Id. at 81)