SCOPE Contributor Darryl Singer is a paralegal-positive litigator, well-known for his effective CPD presentations. He discusses some reasons the holiday season holds so many pitfalls for licensees; what warning signs to look for; and how to seek help for yourself or someone else.
The December holidays pose a paradox: for all the happiness and celebration, this time of year can cause or exacerbate extreme financial pressure, anxiety, depression, and addiction — not to mention overall stress. These can be separate issues, but more often than not, they are inextricably linked in a spiral of despair.
We are bombarded with hundreds of messages a day at this time of year, exhorting us to be especially happy, to celebrate with family, to be in love, and to shop, shop, shop. For many legal professionals, the nightly client parties and events this month are also times to be judged for NOT drinking.
Unfortunately, even those individuals whose lives are ones of general contentedness and satisfaction, who are able to eschew materialism the rest of the year, and who generally handle daily stress with a devil-may-care attitude, can find this time of year to be trying.
The anxiety surrounding family and other social gatherings; the financial pressure to make sure your kids aren’t the only ones not getting the new PS4, and that your staff are satisfied with their bonus; the elevated stress levels associated with the sheer number of social commitments or from the lack of a significant social network; and the loneliness of those who are single or estranged from family — these are just a few stresses and pressures the holiday season brings.
‘Tis the Season For Torment
These pressures apply equally to Christians and non-Christians alike, as well as to legal professionals and non-legal types. Sadly, as much as the undercurrent of stress and sadness is lost in the patina of seasonal happiness, the negative effects of the holidays are amplified by many magnitudes for those already suffering from depression or struggling with addiction.
In fact, the holiday season seems like some sort of karmic joke designed specifically to torment addicts and those with depression. It can also have the severe effect of pushing those with mild depression or functional addiction (if there is such a thing) over the edge, into full-blown episodes from which it can take months or years of effort to recover, if ever.
As I wrote in a previous article for this publication, addiction and depression strike the legal profession three times as often as the general public. This may be the time of year when you see the signs of depression and/or addiction in colleagues who have managed to mask it throughout the year.
Consider these facts:
- Stress and anxiety of any kind, be it financial, social, familial, romantic, are all heightened during this time of year. For those with anxiety disorders or depression, the added pressures and anxiety-producing situations unique to the holidays, often create a level of chaos that cannot be managed without professional intervention.
- It appears that those suffering a situational depression resulting from the loss of a loved one, through death or break-up, are less able to cope during this time of year. Holiday pressure can turn what might be a short-term depression, into a full-scale depressive disorder.
- This is the time of jubilation, often to be found in the consumption of alcohol. Those with addictions to alcohol or other substances are not only surrounded by temptation, but implicitly told that it’s okay to “tie one on.” And when everyone else in the room is feeling buzzed it’s much easier for the addict to fit in, and justify to himself that it’s not really destructive.
- Depression/anxiety and addiction often go hand in hand. One seems to beget the other.
If You Think You Have a Problem
If you think you may be suffering from depression, or that you may be an addict, unless you are a Woody Allen-esque hypochondriac, you likely are. Rather than using this time of year as an excuse to indulge in your excesses, or to tell yourself the depression and anxiety will pass once the holidays are done, seek help. Immediately.
Friends, family, your family doctor, are all good places to start. Legal professionals can access the Law Society’s Members’ Assistance Program (http://www.lsuc.on.ca/map/) or the Ontario Lawyers’ Assistance Plan (http://www.olap.ca/ ) for immediate peer-to-peer mentoring and referral to professional help.
If you think someone you know may be suffering from these afflictions, don’t sit idly by. As a member of the LSUC, you have a duty to the profession and the public to report another member if you believe that member has an illness (and yes, depression, anxiety disorders, and substance addiction are indeed diseases — the science on this is well-settled).
I would approach the member and try to convince them to seek help on their own. If they shun your overtures, and you believe their illness puts their clients at risk, then you must fulfill your duty and report the individual. Tough love, but the person will thank you down the road when they have recovered.
If it is a friend or family member who is not a lawyer or paralegal, again the first thing is to approach them, let them know you care, and are there to help them.
Encourage them to seek treatment of their own volition. If they refuse, then you may need to organize an intervention, in which the friends and family gather, essentially to force the person into the treatment they need. If you need to go this route, seek the assistance of an addiction specialist or medical doctor specializing in depression (as the case may be) to make sure any intervention is done effectively.
Peace, Goodwill, Recovery
Check the resources available at the websites of Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) (http://www.camh.ca/); Homewood Health Centre (http://homewood.org/); and Bellwood Health Services (http://www.bellwood.ca/), among others. You can also take the individual (if they are in an immediate state of crisis and you believe they are a threat to themselves or someone else) to your local hospital emergency room, with police assistance if necessary.
Just as there seems to be a special focus this time of year on helping food banks and toy drives to ensure nobody goes without at the holiday season, let’s not forget that most of those suffering from depression and addiction suffer in silence.
If this time of year is really about peace and goodwill and helping our fellow humans, then do not forget this important piece of the human puzzle. When we help people recover from illnesses such as alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and anxiety, our community as a whole benefits.
And that’s really what the Christmas spirit is all about.
Darryl Singer is a Toronto litigator who has been recovered from drug addiction and depression for four years. His Jewishness does not prevent him from getting into the “Christmas and holiday spirit.”