The psychologist Rollo May famously defined depression as “the inability to construct a future.” And, unfortunately for many attorneys who define their existence by a hard-earned membership in the legal profession, the powerful despair they experience when that profession overwhelms and demoralizes them doesn’t leave them much psychological real estate for constructing a future they can believe in.
Not a future where the practice of law will be what they hoped for, not a future where their lives will have balance and joy, and not a future where their relationships will bring fulfillment and their stresses will seem manageable. They just can’t see it. Unable or unwilling to extract themselves from the psychological, financial and personal mire they never would have expected years of hard work and discipline to bring them, many lawyers then find themselves sinking into a funk, a bottle or a grave.
If you’re asking yourself whether you’re supposed to now feel bad for lawyers — as unnatural an emotional response as many people could ever have toward our profession — the answer is no. Ultimately it is up to the profession itself to tackle this problem openly and honestly, and to increase its efforts and funding to reduce the staggering rates of depression and substance abuse that leave so many lawyers, judges and law students reeling or dead.