6 ways to prevent depression
Updated: Dec 6, 2021
It is no surprise that lawyers are more prone to depression than other professions. Many of us are perfectionists, we work long hours, we see and hear about horrible crime, abuse, neglect. We are “fixers” and do whatever it takes to help people. Sometimes all of this “doing” can add up to becoming overwhelmed, which can lead to depression.
Depression is a medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. A depressed person cannot simply cheer up or let things go. That would be like asking a quarterback to throw a touchdown pass even though his arm is broken. People do not just “cheer up” when they are depressed. It takes personal effort and help from others. Many people who notice they are depressed see a counselor to talk about it. Some take medication. Some do a combination of the two.
I recently read a book called Lost Connections by Johann Hari where the author investigates the psychological and social factors that contribute to mental illness (which he calls “disconnections”), as well as innovative social and environmental treatments for depression (or “reconnections”) (https://thelostconnections.com/mobile/). Whether you are depressed now or would like to prevent depression, Hari explains how you can incorporate certain traits into your life to lessen the chances of being depressed. Here are six behaviors you can focus on to feel well.
How does your job make you feel? You are a lawyer, which means you help people every day. Is this meaningful to you? This means that what you do in your career makes you feel as if you are worthwhile, valuable and important. We spend most of our lives working, so it is important that you feel like your work matters, and that you are making a difference.
Someone who might feel like their job is meaningless is someone who is working at a job only to make money. For example, Jenny works at a large law firm. Every day, she works with angry and rude clients. Even though she is upbeat and welcoming and helpful to her clients, her boss only recognizes the things she does that are not perfect. One time she missed a meeting because she had to care for her elderly mother. It seemed as if this was the only thing her boss noticed. Her boss did not notice that Jenny showed up on time, helped others at the firm, stayed late and worked during the weekends when it was necessary. After many weeks of her boss berating her, Jenny felt that she did not matter. She did not feel worthwhile, valuable or important. She felt meaningless. When you feel meaningless, you are less enthusiastic about life and your future.
Being a lawyer is not a meaningless job, but it can be. If you feel the way Jenny does, it is time to figure out how to make your job meaningful or to find a career that is more meaningful to you.
A support system/connection
We all need a support system. We need other people to make us feel loved, to make us feel as if we matter. Who do you turn to in a crisis or when something amazing happens to you? These are the people who make up your support system. This can be a combination of family, friends, co-workers, your sports team or choir, people you volunteer with in your community. Unfortunately, in today’s society, many of us have turned inward. Research says that families don’t sit down together for dinner as much as they used to, we rarely ask our neighbors how they are doing. It’s like we are all in it for ourselves. We no longer have other people to turn to for support.
But we need a community to survive. If not, we become isolated and lonely. Scientist Lisa Berkman followed both isolated and highly connected people for more than nine years to see whether one group was more likely to die than the other. She discovered that isolated people were two to three times more likely to die during this timeframe. Being disconnected from other people has detrimental effects on your health.
In 2019, the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs released the 2019 National Judicial Stress and Resilience Survey, which identifies the primary sources of judicial stress. Of the 1,034 judges who were surveyed, 50.3 percent said that isolation leads to their stress. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can lead to depression and anxiety, so it is important for your mental health to find your support system and support one another.
Many people find value in things that do not really matter, such as material belongings. Some think that the bigger the house they have, the better the car and the best golf clubs will make their lives more valuable. We have come to believe that happiness comes from getting and possessing stuff. But does this “stuff” really matter? It has been proven that people who believe that happiness comes from accumulating stuff and a superior status have much higher levels of depression.
Think about things you do because you really value them, and not because of anything material you get out of them. What do you do that gives you joy? I love to golf. I golf because I respect the game, I enjoy nature and I value being around other people. I do not get anything material out of the game of golf; I get a boost of happiness. The same thing happens when I spend time with my daughter or my wife, or when I help others. To me, these activities are far more important than driving away in the most expensive car in the lot.
Find what makes you feel good about yourself and do more of it.
From childhood trauma to getting upset at the driver who cut you off, we all have thoughts or memories that affect the way we feel. For example, if you grew up in a volatile household or you were in an injurious accident, you probably have ill feelings about these events. These feelings can lead you to feel scared, insecure and hopeless, which can lead to depression. Letting go of these feelings is obviously easier said than done. Doctors and psychologists have written hundreds of books and articles on how to recover from trauma, so it is not something I can write about in one article. One way of letting go is to understand and believe that these events are not your fault. You are powerless over what has happened and what will happen in the future. If you do suffer from any type of trauma, I encourage you to talk to a counselor about it and really focus on learning how to come to terms with it. If you do, you may notice an improvement in your overall well-being and less depression.
When you stay inside all day, work long hours and hardly take any breaks, you shut yourself out of your natural habitat--nature. A study found that people who moved from a city to a rural area saw a reduction in depression, and people who moved away from a rural area into a city saw an increase in depression. Another study had depressed people who lived in cities take a nature walk and found that their mood was five times better than the mood improvement of non-depressed people. Our bodies are made to move, and we know that exercise significantly reduces depression. But when scientists compared people who run on treadmills in a gym with people who run in nature, they discovered that there is a higher reduction in depression for those who run in nature. When you are faced with a natural landscape, you get a sense that you and your concerns are very small, and that the world is so much larger than you are. This helps you see the bigger ways you are connected to everything around you. Life is not just about going to the office and building up your retirement account. It’s so much more than that! So get outdoors, exercise and enjoy the view. Your mood will thank you for it.
Hope reduces feelings of helplessness, increases happiness, reduces stress, and improves quality of life. Hope is a positive feeling about yourself and your future. When you have hope, you have something to look forward to. Some examples of being hopeful include knowing that you and your partner can get through a tough situation, understanding that you can overcome a setback, looking forward to your trip to Greece or your child’s school play, asking for help, supporting your loved ones, and keeping in touch with your tribe. On the other hand, when you are hopeless, you might tell yourself that there is no way out of a tough situation, so you stay in bed all day and refuse to speak to others. You can probably see how having hope is a much healthier way to think than to be hopeless.
Putting it all together
Putting your mental health first is important for everyone, especially lawyers. When you look at all of the ways to be happy, it is all about connection. When you connect with your job, meaningful values, other people and nature, you find hope and it is easier to let go of the negative parts of your life. I encourage you to think about these six traits and how you can incorporate them into your life. Your mental health and overall health will most likely improve.
If you find yourself stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, seek help. The Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program helps lawyers, judges and law students manage life's stresses. OLAP has saved lives, careers, marriages and families. All inquiries are confidential. (800) 348-4343 / ohiolap.org