THE DE-LAP ZONE:  Recognizing Impairment in Lawyers

Bonita: "Without treatment, I did not give a damn about myself, anybody, or anything. I was hungry but couldn't eat. I needed to work but could not get out of bed. I just felt terrible sadness and unending hopelessness. I knew something was wrong but feared the stigma of getting help for an emotional/mental problem. After all, Delaware is a close-knit legal community."

Joe: "I sought treatment for my high blood pressure and diabetes, but did not for clinical depression.   Ironically, it was the clinical depression that nearly took my life. Today, I take personal responsibility for treating my high blood pressure, diabetes, and my clinical depression."


The Illness

Generally, all of us feel sad or depressed. The word depression is part of our everyday language. As defined in Abnormal Psychology:

"Depression is a medical illness that affects a person's body, mood, and thoughts – the whole person. It affects eating and sleeping habits, feelings about self, and everyday thoughts. These mood changes may be temporary or long-lasting. They may range from a relatively minor feeling of melancholy to a deeply negative view of the world and an inability to function effectively." P. 267

Depression is the most common mental illness, and no one is immune – not even lawyers. This illness is the leading cause of disability in the US – affecting 10% of the general public. Lawyers are at higher risk than those in the general public. Subsequently, depression occurs in all age, racial and socioeconomic groups. According to published statistics, "At some point in their lives, an estimated one in four women and one in 10 men can expect to develop depression so severe as to require treatment.

The American Bar Association reports:

An estimated 81,000 to 117,000 ABA members have had one or more alcohol, drug, and mental health disorders in the past year. Over 190,000 have had or will have a disease sometime during their lifetime.

Almost 45,000 ABA members have had a substance abuse (alcohol or drug) disorder in the past year. Over 100,000 will have a lifetime substance abuse disorder, and over 40,000 ABA members suffer from depression (within the past year).

As members of the legal profession, most attorneys spend their time dealing with other people's problems, often ignoring their own. The day-to-day pressures and deadlines of practice sometimes manifest into acute difficulties like anxiety, depression, or chemical and alcohol abuse/dependence.


Risk Factors:

The risk factors make an individual vulnerable to developing a particular disorder – physical and/or mental/emotional. Risk factors include but are not limited to an individual's family history, biological vulnerabilities, environment, stress, and lack of coping skills.


Symptoms of Depression:

  • Depressed mood most of the day;

  • Significant weight loss or gain;

  • Indecisiveness and diminished ability to think;

  • Fatigue or loss of energy;

  • Sleep disturbances (either insomnia or sleeping longer than usual);

  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt;

  • The inability to sit still, pacing or hand-wringing; slowed speech, increased pauses before answering a question, monotonous speech tone, slowed body movements, an overall decreased energy level; and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. (2)


Symptoms Unique to Lawyers:

  • 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 misrepresentation to clients;

  • Emotional/Physical Paralysis – unable to open mail or answer phones;

  • Chronic sadness, guilt, apathy, anxiety, "empty" feelings;

  • Loss of interest and/or pleasure;

  • Trouble concentrating; and

  • Feelings of loneliness, isolation, desolation, and being overwhelmed and unavailable to what is happening around you.



Fortunately, technology and other new advances in treatment for depression make it one of the most treatable of all mental illnesses. Talk therapy, medication monitoring, or both can relieve symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, the biggest issue is not what treatment; instead, getting people into treatment. People hesitate to seek treatment for depression because they mistakenly think:

  1. Depression is a weakness, not an illness

  2. Depression is a normal part of aging; and/or

  3. Depression carries a stigma; people will talk about me.

Furthermore, feelings of helplessness, frustration, shame, guilt, and even disgust can cause the lawyer to shy away from addressing health issues squarely. Instead, it is easier to isolate the unhappy events as an aberration and hope things will get better. In other words, it is easier to deny that a problem exists.

On the other hand, the astute individual knows that more than 80% of people with a depressive illness improve with appropriate treatment. Treatment can lessen the severity of depression, and it may also reduce the duration of the episode and may help prevent additional bouts of depression. With early recognition, intervention, and support, most people can overcome depression and get on with their lives.



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Resources for Postpartum Depression


What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder characterized by significant symptoms of depression or anxiety. [1] "Postpartum depression isn't a character flaw or a weakness. Sometimes it's simply a complication of giving birth. If you have postpartum depression, prompt treatment can help you manage your symptoms." [2]


Christiana Care Center for Women's Emotional Wellness

4755 Ogletown Stanton Rd, Newark, DE 19713

Telephone: 302-733-6662

Mom's Heal Support Group: Every Thursday (except holidays) 6:00-7:00 pm; free; no need to register

Christiana Care's 24-hour Crisis Line on 302-320-2118.

Megan O'Hara, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker for Christiana Care's Center for Women's Emotional Wellness. She provides assessments, education, and treatment to women and their families at risk for or experiencing perinatal mood disorders.


Postpartum Support International is the world's leading non-profit organization dedicated to helping those suffering from perinatal mood disorders, the most common complication of childbirth.

PSI helpline: 1-800-944-4773

Text message helpline: 503-894-9453


PSI-DE is the Delaware state chapter of Postpartum Support International. They provide information on support groups in Delaware.

Julie O'Neill is the Delaware support coordinator

Telephone (Home): 302.449.1682

Telephone (Cell): 302.584.8249 TEXT OR CALL


Perinatal Mental Health Alliance for Women of Color. PMHA-WOC was created to fill a gap in support services for professionals and communities of color around perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

Facebook group: @pmhawoc


Hockessin Center for Change

Phone: 302-239-5255 


[1] Pregnancy and Postpartum Mental Health Overview, Postpartum Support International,

[2] Postpartum depression, Mayo Clinic,



 The Delaware Lawyer Assistance Program (DE-LAP) is a vehicle for providing confidential, free help within the legal community to individuals suffering from depression, addiction, chemical abuse, and/or other disabling conditions that interfere with their health and work productivity. If you have concerns about a member of the legal community or if something doesn't seem right with them, call the Delaware Lawyers Assistance Program.

Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for those working in the legal community by delivering education and assistance. DE-LAP is committed to developing and maintaining practical problem solving for the individual and creating a workplace atmosphere that encourages professional growth and excellence.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing symptoms of depression; or if you see a lawyer or judge who needs help; or if you want additional information on depression, health-care referrals. Call the Delaware Lawyers Assistance Program (De-LAP),Carol P. Waldhauser, Executive Director, at (302)777-0123 or 1-877-24delap or e-mail for confidential, free information.



1. Abnormal Psychology, Irwin G. Sarason and Barbara R. Sarason,

Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, p 267.

2. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Text