A Terrible Melancholy is a documentary about lawyers with depression, but it’s relevant to anyone trying to understand more about the illness. Dan Lukasik, a lawyer who has lived with depression for the past ten years, produced the film to encourage others in his profession to seek help.
The message is on target for anyone in high-stress work, and today that means just about everyone.
The barriers for lawyers to be open about their illness are hard to overcome, although they are not unique to that profession. Several attorneys describe their personal struggles and the aspects of legal practice that contribute to the problem.
Lawyers are trusted by their clients to guide them confidently through conflict, to be absolutely reliable and able to solve difficult problems. It is not expected to see a lawyer succumb to an illness most people think of as purely emotional.
There is a career risk in opening up but also the inner reluctance to admit to depression. Part of the film tells the story of a law student who kept his condition to himself and ultimately committed suicide. As one of his friends says in the film, they didn’t have the “emotional awareness” to recognize the symptoms.
That’s not unusual. As Dan Lukasik says, he didn’t know what depression was when it first hit him. Without an understanding of what it is, the illness is especially frightening. Your life can seem to be falling apart.
Richard O’Connor, author of Undoing Depression, helps explain key aspects of the illness, and Joshua Wolf Shenk adds ideas that he came to understand while writing Lincoln’s Melancholy.
Dan Lukasik has also set up an excellent website, Lawyers with Depression, that includes the personal stories of many attorneys dealing with depression.
You can see the full half-hour version of A Terrible Melancholy for free on Vimeo. It’s well worth the time.