How to Recognize the Signs of Depression in Your Colleagues and Friends

  • Though lawyers are more likely than non-lawyers to be depressed, many of us don’t recognize the signs in others
  • Changes in someone’s weight or relationship with drugs and alcohol can be signs of depression
  • If you suspect someone is dealing with depression, the best thing you can do is to listen to them without judgment

You’re likely already aware of the high rates of depression among lawyers.

But are you aware of how to spot the signs of the condition in your colleagues and friends?

As much as we talk about the epidemic of depression in the legal world, and as much as our firms attempt to prioritize openness around mental health and wellness, many of us don’t actually know what depression looks like. And so, we’re unable to help our colleagues and friends when they need us most.

While the signs of depression are different from person to person, there are a few warning signs to be aware of. Here are some of the most prevalent.

They’re Off Their Game at Work

Is your former rock star colleague suddenly arriving at work late with no explanation? Is he missing deadlines or forgetting about client meetings? Does he get snippy when partners ask him about the status of his work? It’s a definite red flag when someone who was previously passionate about and invested in their work loses interest. People with depression can find it hard to motivate themselves, and associated feelings of hopelessness further dampen enthusiasm around work and make it hard to concentrate.

They’re Frequently Expressing Negative Thoughts

If your friend or coworker seems preoccupied by negativity, and is frequently expressing a negative outlook—especially about things they previously would have been excited about—they might be dealing with depression. Depressed people also might also talk a lot more than they did in the past about death or even suicide. Lawyers, generally a confident bunch, often have their confidence impacted by the negativity and hopelessness associated with depression as well, so pay particular attention to how your colleagues speak about themselves and their professional futures.

They’ve Had Changes in Appetite or Weight

Significant weight changes can also be a sign of depression in some people. It’s not uncommon for depression to manifest itself in unhealthy eating habits—either by overeating or not eating enough. Of course, weight changes can also be caused by plenty of other things, from deliberate diets to physical ailments, so be sure to broach your concern in a tactful way if you notice a colleague is skipping meals or gaining or losing an unhealthy amount of weight.

Their Alcohol or Drug Use Has Increased

There’s a strong link between abuse of alcohol and drugs and depression, especially in the legal world. Those who suffer from depression often turn to both legal and illegal substances to escape. While plenty of lawyers like to tie one on every now and then (sometimes we just need a night out to blow off steam after a particularly challenging week), it’s important to keep an eye on colleagues whose relationship with substances seem to dramatically change or affect their work or relationships.

Have you recognized changes and signs in a coworker that point to depression?

What if You Recognize the Signs?

It can be challenging to know how to initiate a conversation with someone you suspect is dealing with depression. The best place to start is by asking if they’d like to talk about it and making sure to listen to them without judgment. Tell your friend or colleague you’ve been concerned about them and want to check in, and encourage them to talk about their feelings. You might need to repeatedly express your concern, as well as your willingness to listen.

There are many ways lawyers suffering from depression can get help, so familiarize yourself with your firm’s health offerings, as well as your local lawyer assistance programs. That way, you’re in a good position to point your friends and colleagues in the right direction if they require professional help.