Cancer, addictions and mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are all recognized as complex medical illnesses that can cause extreme distress. Despite this, we tend to treat people with cancer very differently from people with addictions and mood disorders.
With cancer, we are understanding of changes in behavior and performance levels. We encourage people with cancer to rest, seek treatment and do whatever is necessary to get well. In essence, we are hard on the problem, not the people. With addictions and mood disorders, we tend to be hard on people. We blame people with addictions and mood disorders and see the illnesses as evidence of weak characters or moral failings. We resent their changes in behavior and performance levels and admonish people to just snap out of it.
How can we do better?
For starters, we can encourage people who we believe are struggling with addictions, anxiety or depression to seek help. People with addictions and mood disorders often suffer needlessly by refusing to acknowledge these illnesses or not recognizing that alternative, more effective ways of coping exist. Lawyers are especially likely to suffer because they can fall back on their intelligence, motivation, commitment, ambition and determination to push themselves to the point of minimal functioning.
Second, we can do better by recognizing the potential of lawyers who are suffering with addictions and mood disorders. The prognosis for lawyers with addictions and mood disorders who get the right help can be very positive. It is worth noting that a recent study by the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program found that rates of claims against lawyers in recovery are lower than the general rates of claims against lawyers.
Lastly, we can improve by acknowledging the courage that it takes to ask for help and let others know that it is ok to be off sometimes.
If you or someone you know is suffering with addictions, anxiety or depression, the counsellors at the Lawyer Assistance Program are available to help and answer your questions on a confidential basis and without judgment. They can be reached at 604.685.2171.