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Lawyers and depression

(15 Posts)
NoNamesPleasewereBritish Wed 28-Sep-11 21:10:06

I am a long-time lurker and occasional poster, but have name-changed for this.

I work as a lawyer. I have struggled with depression for years and have tried desparately to control it without professional help despite a disastrous personal life that I have occasionally found overwhelming. (I don't want to put the details on a public forum). I have tried my hardest not to bring these issues to work, but I regularly sob my socks off in the loo. Recent events have obviously had a negative effect on my depression, to the point where I eschew company and am deliberately rude to people who I feel are getting too emotionally "close" to me. (I sound delightful, don't I??)

I am in bits. I was referred to a psychiatrist who told me that my depression was "off the scale" and recommended in-patient treatment. I balked at this but he said (and I agree) "you can't have it all" i.e. pretending all is well whilst feeling wretched.

Obviously, the "right" answer is to say, sod it, my health is more important and I am getting signed off and admitted. I feel I just can't do that. I don't want to let people down, and I am scared that I will be managed out for showing "weakness" or for taking time off sick. (I know they can't do it overtly, but there are always ways...) I dread having "the conversation" and having to face everyone afterwards. I am also concerned that I may be deemed unfit to practise (but that may be paranoia talking).

It's a long shot, but I wondered whether anyone had any similar experiences to share? Obviously I appreciate anyone who takes the time to reply (if anyone does!). However, if there are any legal eagles in a similar boat or who have any advice, I would particularly love to hear from you.

Thanks.

smallwhitecat Wed 28-Sep-11 21:11:44

Message withdrawn

NoNamesPleasewereBritish Wed 28-Sep-11 21:21:25

Thank you *smallwhitecat". I have sent you a PM.

madmouse Wed 28-Sep-11 21:41:55

I'm a lawyer and I had complex PTSD for two years. I worked through most of it, but took a six month sabbatical in the thick of treatment so I didn't have to explain anything to anyone and didn't have to attend any work meetings. I do only work part time as I have a child with sn and I thin kthat helped too.

It was the inability to concentrate and to handle stress that got me most. Literally running out when confronted with an unexpected situation.

NoNamesPleasewereBritish Wed 28-Sep-11 21:55:23

Hi Madmouse

Thanks for replying. I can really relate to the inability to concentrate and handle stress. I am so busy obsessively worrying about everything I might get wrong and berating myself (and trying not to cry) it feels as though I only run at about 10% brain capacity.

Do you mind me asking if you told your firm about the PTSD at any point, i.e. before the sabbatical? I am thinking of offering to take unpaid leave, but I think I would still need to explain, which is the bit I dread.

I hope you are fully recovered now.

madmouse Wed 28-Sep-11 22:13:35

Yes I did keep my manager in the loop and we experimented with lighter duties (I work in the charitable sector and was co-managing an immigration practice) before agreeing that a period of leave was best. I was made redundant later when the office went belly-up and took a deliberate step back - not managing right now and not appearing in court - but supporting a legal team in a law centre.

I am mostly recovered but still have vulnerable points. Interestingly was able to contribute to a training session recently on working with clients with PTSD and memory problems from my own experience. In some ways and certainly in my field of law it has made me a better practitioner. I grieve what seems to be the permanent loss of my ability to take on everything and cope with any stress.

stitchthis Wed 28-Sep-11 22:19:53

It's probably not PC but I'd consider lying thru my teeth and inventing a reason for a sabbatical - charity work, exploring, whatever. I completely understand the fear of being 'managed out'. I know it shouldn't be like that but it is. What is clear is that you can't carry on as is. Get yourself out and regroup. Good luck.

NanaNina Wed 28-Sep-11 23:30:14

Hi Nonames - I was a middle manager in children's services for a LA when I suffered my first major episode of depression. I was an inpatient for 3 months, prescribed AD (imipramine) and made a complete recovery. There were no problems at work as everyone knew the cause of my depression was the death (at age 46) of my closest friend (friends since teenagers) who also was a manager in the same authority.

I continued to take the ADs for the following 14 years and then came off them very gradually (over 10 months) with the support of a psychologist. However after 4 months of coming off them (and with a fairly major physical illness) I had my 2nd major depressive episode and again 3 months as inpatient. By this time I was retired but was working for an independent social work agency (though on a self employed basis) and they too were very understanding. (Well if social workers can't empathise with mental ill health then god help us!) However I haven't been able to return to work (even though I loved the job) as I have not fully recovered and can have a few weeks being fine, and then a "blip" descends and the bleakness, empty feelings return. On this MH thread I heard some describe depression as not so much a sadness but an absence of any emotion at all, and I found that so very true for me. Mind I was 66 when my 2nd episode occurred so in a way it was time to retire.

I think if a psychiatrist is saying you are "off the scale" (whatever than means) and is suggesting inpatient, then that is what you must do. You say you feel on the one hand "sod it - my health is more important" but then that you don't want to let people down (that is a symptom of depression) as is feeling ashamed of the way you are feeling, and thinking that there should be something we should be doing to make it stop. We don't think any of these things with physical ill health. Depression is a deceitful illness and makes us think things about ourself that isn't true.

To be honest I don't think you have any choice. Sadly there is a stigma still attached to mental ill health, but I think it is up to people like us to be open about it (1 in 4 people will suffer MH problems at sometime in their life) and help dilute that stigma. I too recall going to the loo to cry several times a day and smudging all my eye make-up and my colleagues knew there was something very wrong with me but didn't know how to deal with the situation. Eventually one of my team (he had been in my team for 10 years) a lovely bloke, spoke to me about how worried everyone was about me, and I sobbed and sobbed and he drove me home, and then I saw the GP who referred me to the Cslt Psych and I was admitted the same day.

I was lucky in the fact that the psych ward I was in was a relatively new purpose built set of bungalows for MH patients. I had my own room and had relaxation classes, OT etc and the main thing was that I didn't have to think or worry about anything at all and that in itself is such a relief when you are on the bottom. The main problem was boredom to be honest but I had visitors every day and friends sending me cards, books etc.

Anyway if you try to carry on as you are you will just get worse and worse and may not be able to work in any event, and so where would you be then.

Be brave and put your health first............sending warm wishes

yoey Wed 28-Sep-11 23:45:41

NoNames are you a barrister or a solicitor? I have experience/advice about this as a barrister. I'm so sad that you're (and others here have/are) experiencing this.

yoey Wed 28-Sep-11 23:52:54

Sorry NoNames it is of course apparent upon proper reading that you're not self employed. It was upon this aspect that I could advise, really. I wish you the best.

NoNamesPleasewereBritish Fri 30-Sep-11 08:46:36

Thanks everyone. I spoke to the psych this morning and he suggested I start taking Duloxetine (i think it's a bit like Venlafaxine) and has sent a prescription to my GP. I am going to see him next week to discuss the plan. It is a relief to know that I am not on my own. Instinctively, I just want to tell the truth and be completely honest but I am not convinced I would be treated sympathetically if I did and the genie's out of the bottle by then...
Best wishes and thanks to everyone who replied.

harrap Sat 01-Oct-11 20:05:34

Not a direct answer to your question but have you contacted lawcare? I contacted them once and found them really helpful.

herethereandeverywhere Sat 01-Oct-11 21:24:19

I work for a large City firm as a soliciotr on the coroprate department. I'm 10 years qualified. I had anxiety/depression triggered by a combination of stressors but the "final push" was pressure of work (volume of work and juggling DD on my return from mat. leave). I stormed out in dramatic style (resigned then just didn't go back) then after completely withdrawing for over a month, confided in a friend (who co-incidently is an HR professional). She advised to see my GP, withdraw my resignation and get a sick note for work-related stress and anxiety.

(Sorry, that back story sounds largely irrelevant but it might be helpful to assess how useful/relevant my experience is to you).

Work have been wonderful. They were so understanding about the depression, encouraged as much time off as necessary and a visit to their occ. health Dr who recommended a staggered return with reduced hours. In my heart of hearts I know I'm no longer seen as a high flyer on a matter-of-time to partnership (although returning from mat. leave had already injected a whole dose of doubt into their minds about me). To be honest, it's a relief. I don't want to be "up there" any more and I'm biding my time for an escape plan (ie: choosing my next career.)

If your career is everything to you, your bedrock when the rest of your life is shifting sands then I'd go with the plan of keep it quiet and get the time off you need to get better through a sabbatical request.

If the job is contributing to your condition then seriously consider 'fessing up. I'm so much less stressed now I know it doesn't matter so much any more. And my bosses couldn't have been more supportive (although whther they saw me as a liability who was ready to sue.)

Please keep seeking help and talking about it. Good luck.

NoNamesPleasewereBritish Mon 03-Oct-11 19:38:44

Thank you herethere

I was really interested to read your post - your experience is the closest to mine in terms of the type of firm/work and your PQE. Tbh I think I am already off the "high flyers" pile (serious operation a couple of years ago) so I can't really say my career is my 'bedrock'. It's definitely a contributing factor to my depression.

The current plan is to take the tablets for 6 weeks and have 2 sessions of psychotherapy, then review. I am still unsure of whether to broach things with work.

I hope you don't mind if I PM you about your treatment? (I also have a few escape plan ideas that you might like!) smile

herethereandeverywhere Mon 03-Oct-11 23:08:23

Yes, please do PM me, I haven't shared my experience with anyone else in a similar position. I had 3 months off, citalopram and NHS CBT counselling. BUT the major thing was time off, working "knowing" and going easy on me and reducing my hours to 4 days a week (still client facing so a bit of a juggle), ie: removing the stressor had a far greater effect than medicine or talking through strategies for coping.

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