Churchill called it his "black dog". Harry Potter has his allegorical "Grimm". Whatever you call it, a vast number of men suffer from intense unhappiness, despair, self-loathing and hopelessness. Nor does this spectre seem to fall into any one demographic category. Men who are otherwise extremely successful, fulfilled and functional are just as likely to suffer as those whose life circumstances might provide all the necessary explanation for the condition blithely called "depression." Some distinguish between mere "black feelings" and a "clinical" depression characterized by a lack of feeling. Regardless, a very great percentage of us suffer from such thoughts and feelings. Especially lawyers.
Phenomenon without a Cause?
I have no idea what the cause of depression is. Some blame an overactive "Area 25" of the brain. Others point to synaptic breakdown; still others blame serotonin levels. More commonly, men are blamed for their depression, calling it a character flaw or even laziness.
I do know there is much ink spilt on the topic, but little in the way of social understanding of the phenomenon. Any way you slice it, I am sure that there are multiple responses to depression. Many men, as stated, lead productive and fulfilled lives in spite of and in concert with their "black feelings" their "black dog", their "ghostly specter."
Work: The Pyrrhic Victory?
Some I have spoken with tell me that the one cure for them is work, productive and satisfying work. I can believe this, and my own layman's perspective is that male depression is probably characterized most by, or generated most frequently by, a perceived lack of control over their work circumstances--work still being the primary way in which men self-identify.
For myself, I have no idea whether my periodic bouts of unexplained lack of interest in work, feelings of helplessness in the face of failure, and even sometimes of success, are true "depression" or not. Surely all or nearly all of our great bards, our great novelists and great poets describe at one time or another a state that has no other universal description other than depression. Perhaps human beings are not set up for eternal happiness. One wonders also why it is that so many high-functioning, highly educated and high earning-capacity men seem to suffer from the condition at least as often, and perhaps more often, than others. It is a mystery.
I can tell you, however, that as attorneys, we owe it to ourselves, our firms and our profession (if duty to self and family is not motivating enough) to ensure that we are not allowing our professional judgment to be swayed, or our responsibilities neglected, due to our interior emotional or physiological states.
One must start somewhere to answer the question. I provide a link to the Mayo Clinic's male depression site as a beginning.
Badge of Honor
Either way, if I can add anything to the dialogue about male depression, I can tell you that there is no need to feel ashamed about the condition. Churchill's dogged determination, his prolific written output, his political savvy and his longevity should be beacons to men of all ilks. Depression is something that we can live with, shine with, succeed with. But, like Churchill, we may not be able to survive without naming it.
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