As summer turns to fall, temperatures cool off and the days get shorter, many lawyers feel increasingly tired, depressed, and hopeless.
And we’re not alone: According to the Cleveland Clinic, about half a million Americans deal with seasonal depression.
Also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, seasonal depression can make everything from finishing a brief to attending a bar association happy hour feel impossible. And lawyers, who are more likely to suffer from depression than the general population, are particularly susceptible.
While the symptoms of seasonal depression are different for everyone, there are plenty of ways lawyers can cope with the condition.
What Exactly Is SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: depression that occurs at the same time each year, generally starting in the fall right around when the days get noticeably shorter. While it’s unknown exactly why certain people struggle with seasonal depression, it likely has to do with the decrease in sunlight that occurs in the fall and winter, as well as changes in body temperature and hormone regulation that occur seasonally. SAD is more common in colder climates and for most who deal with it, ends in the spring. A significantly smaller population of people deals with a rare kind of SAD called summer depression, which begins in late spring and ends later in the year.
How Does It Affect Lawyers?
No two lawyers deal with seasonal depression in the same way. For many, an overarching feeling of tiredness affects the ability to wake up on time and have sufficient energy to get through the workday. For others, intense depression can affect their relationship with both their loved ones and their work. Other common symptoms include increased appetite, irritability, anxiety, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, and loss of motivation. This can make an already grueling job even more taxing; if you’re exhausted and unable to concentrate, for example, wading through your caseload only gets more challenging.
Can I Prevent It?
So far, it doesn’t seem possible to fully prevent the symptoms of seasonal depression from occurring. However, one common SAD treatment, light therapy, has shown some promise in research studies focused on prevention in those who have previously struggled with the condition. Light therapy involves sitting under or in front of a UV lamp every day. Lawyers who deal with seasonal depression also often respond positively to spending at least 20 minutes every day outside in direct sunlight—which, of course, can be a challenge when you work lawyers’ hours and it’s below freezing outdoors.
How Else Can I Treat SAD?
Talk therapy and antidepressants can help lawyers deal with seasonal depression, whether they treatments are employed individually or in tandem. Therapy can help you talk out your feelings and teach you coping mechanisms, while a short-term use of antidepressants will alter the chemicals in your brain to help improve your mental state.
And finally, maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating well, exercising regularly, and making time for sleep can help mitigate the symptoms of SAD (this is good advice for any lawyer, whether or not seasonal depression is an issue). If you’re worried that you might be dealing with seasonal depression, the best thing you can do is talk to your doctor.
Should I Tell Anyone?
As with any kind of mental health challenge, you should not keep your seasonal depression a secret. If nothing else, being open and honest with those you trust will help you shoulder the burden. And as mentioned above, you should share your concerns with your doctor.
Things can be a bit different when it comes to telling people at work. There’s no right or wrong move here, and much depends on your specific firm and your relationship with your boss. If you’re worried that you might get treated unfairly by disclosing your condition, it probably makes sense to refrain from talking about it. However, if you have a strong relationship with your boss, he or she likely would appreciate being aware of the situation. If you choose to disclose your condition, it’s best to explain in plain terms what’s going on—that your body’s chemicals are thrown out of whack during a certain time of the year—and to assure them you’re seeking appropriate treatment, working to address the problem, and will continue to produce the quality of work that is expected of you.