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Coping & Resiliency   

Coping and Resiliency

Linking Stress, Depression & Substance Abuse

  • Linking Stress, Depression and Substance Abuse

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Depression and Lawyers

According to a Johns Hopkins study, attorneys suffer from depression at much higher rates than the general public. Depression is not a character flaw. It is neither a "mood" nor a personal weakness that you can change at will or by "pulling yourself together." Rather, it is a real medical illness with real causes, just as diabetes and high blood pressure are.  More than 19 million Americans suffer from some type of depression, and one in eight people will need treatment for depression during his or her lifetime.

Our list of signs and symptoms of depression, which you'll find below, was put together by lawyers who have experienced it firsthand. It is their hope that this list will help attorneys, judges and law students dealing with depression seek the help they need and realize that they are not alone.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Inability to meet professional or personal obligations – procrastination, file stagnation and neglect, lowered productivity, missing deadlines (statutes, filing responsive pleadings or motions,) excuse making and potential for misrepresentation to clients
  • Emotional paralysis – unable to open mail or answer phones
  • Persistent sadness or apathy, crying, anxiety, “empty” feeling
  • Loss of interest or pleasure
  • Trouble concentrating or remembering things
  • Guilt, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, low self-esteem
  • Changes in sexual energy or desire
  • Changes in eating, including loss of or significant increase in appetite
  • Changes in sleep, marked increases or decreases in time spent sleeping.
  • Feelings of bafflement, confusion, loneliness, isolation, desolation, being overwhelmed, unavailable to what is going on around you.
  • Thoughts of Suicide (Ideation), Planning Suicide or Suicide Attempts

Who is at Risk?

No one is completely immune ...

  • Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed and treated for major depression
  • Men are less willing to acknowledge depression – symptoms may be masked by alcohol or drug abuse


  • Depression is the leading cause of disability in the US--Affects about 10% of population (19 million per year)
  • 2/3rds never seek treatment and suffer needlessly
  • Biggest issue is not what treatment, but rather getting people into treatment
  • More than 80% of people with a depressive illness improve with appropriate treatment
  • Treatment can lessen the severity of depression, but it may also reduce the duration of the episode and may help prevent additional bouts of depression

Colleagues, family members and friends play important roles in recognition of depressive symptoms and helping those in need get treatment.


The Art of Living: Becoming More Resilient 

 by Nancy Stek
Assistant Director, New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program

Can becoming more “resilient” help you manage stress in a healthier way? Are there lessons to be learned from others who have managed to thrive in spite of living in adverse conditions?  As a result of life stressors, do you see yourself and your life as “damaged” or “challenged?”  Is the glass half empty or half full?  Experts say “resilience” is the key.

Resiliency as defined by psychiatrist Steven Wolin, M.D., is the capacity to rise above adversity and forge lasting strengths in the struggle.  It is the means by which children who grew up in troubled families navigated through difficult times and emerged as strong, healthy, capable adults.  It is not about magically escaping harm. It is about the art of living.

Experts are not all in ageement about how much of resilience is genetic.  People do seem to differ in their natural abilities to handle stress.  But being resilient boils down to having a certain set of skills, and skills can be learned.  So resilience can be developed.

In a well-known 40 year study involving 700 children followed from birth, researcher Emmy Werner focused on identifying factors which seemed to protect approximately 1/3 of the high-risk children from developing problems in spite of the compromising risk factors in their lives.  She identified two primary reasons for their invulnerability: they were born with outgoing dispositions and they were able to engage several sources of support for themselves.

The other two-thirds of the high risk group developed problems, but the majority were doing well by their mid-thirties. They attributed their rebound to having people in their lives who reached out to them with the messages, “You count. And it doesn’t matter what you have done in the past.”

Developing competencies, or resiliency skills, is also a key factor in successfully responding to life’s stresses and adversities.  It is possible to be hurt and rebound at the same time.  Resilient individuals refrain from blaming themselves for what has gone wrong.  Through a process called “adaptive distancing” they can draw boundaries between the problem and themselves. “My situation is troubled but I am not my situation.”  They maintain their independence and are often drawn to spending time with healthier peers and families.

Ongoing research indicates that those who are resilient take responsibility for what goes right in their lives.  They cultivate insight, are able to be honest and they take charge of problems. They have good decision-making and planning skills, a healthy sense of humor and a sense of hope about the future.  They know how to ask for help and support when they need it, and how to cultivate relationships which provide that.

Reframing, according to Steven Wolin, is at the heart of resilience.  It is a way of shifting the focus to the cup being half full.  Going back to an incident, finding the strengths and building self-esteem from the achievement is what builds resilience. Instead of seeing oneself as “a helpless survivor” one can reframe an experience to see oneself as an “accomplished strategist.”  This is a critical step in developing resilience: shifting from a “damage model” to a “challenge model.”

The two perspectives speak for themselves: “look at how horrible your life has been and how you’ve been victimized” or “ look at how you managed to survive and thrive in spite of it.”  Sometimes it’s easier to be the victim; it removes the obligation to change.  It is also possible to emerge from difficult situations with dignity and strength and lead a healthy and gratifying life.

Reducing and managing stress in your life can begin by increasing your resiliency skills.  Listed below is a list of resiliency skills. Read through the list and take the following 5 steps:

  • First, identify your 5 strongest skills.
  • Next, identify 2 skills you would like to learn or improve.
  • Third, for each of those skills, list at least 3 steps or strategies you can act on in order to improve each skill.
  • Fourth, write an affirmation for each skill. This is a sentence that is written in the present tense about each skill. For example, if I want to be better at goal setting, my affirmation could be “I am an expert at goal setting and I reach my goals easily.”
  • And finally, write down a date you will begin working on these skills and a target date for completion.

It may be helpful to find a partner to work with, talk to and be  accountable to.  You can share ideas and keep each other on track.

Resiliency Checklist

Rate yourself on each of the following using a scale of 1 – 10.

I see myself as someone who: 

1. Is flexible or adaptable
2. Is goal directed
3. Is open to new ideas
4. Has a good sense of humorr
5. Is creative
6. Has an inviting personality
7. Often volunteers to help others
8. Is future oriented
9. Is a good planner
10. Is independent
11. Has good communication skills
12. Is usually persistent
13. Is achievement oriented
14. Is optimistic and hopeful
15. Has good problem-solving skills
16. Has healthy expectations of self
17. Can see the humor in situations
18. Can ask for help easily
19. Can easily put others at ease
20. Has good decision-making skills


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