Some call it the 'curse of the gifted'


By Phil Han

University of Technology Sidney UTS:Law
September 8, 2006

It's called the silent killer; and its name is depression. It's a disease that one in five Australians deal with on a day to day basis and it's a disease that tragically claims hundreds of lives each year. Tristan Jepson, a graduate law student who struggled to find permanent employment was one of its victims. He was only 26. Jepson was one of many in the law profession that dealt with depression throughout his career. In fact, research shows that the occurrence of depression in the legal profession is up to four times the rate of the general population. Some call it, the 'curse of the gifted.'

On September 7, an event organized by the the University of New South Wales Law Faculty and UTS Faculty of Law, the Tristan Jepson Memorial Lecture on Mental Health and the Legal Profession brought to the forefront the debilitating disease that many in the profession simply don't talk about. The public lecture aimed to highlight many of the stigmas of depression in the legal profession and raise awareness. Premier Morris Iemma who opened the talk said "All of us know the competitive pressures placed on young lawyers...we need to raise awareness among students and professionals about depression."

A leading Canadian psychiatrist, Dr Mamta Gautam spoke to a packed house of lawyers, academics, and most importantly law students, on the significance of understanding how depression affects our lives, and working on that work-life balance we strive to achieve.

"People in the law profession are unrelentingly perfect," said Gautam, describing how lawyers constantly strive to be the best, albeit at a cost of their own personal well-being. Gautam also listed statistic after statistic damning the law profession as one of the most stressful, competitive, and depressing jobs. "Lawyers reign the list in depression out of 105 professions," she said. "There's also the problem that the legal profession isn't doing enough to solve the problem."

The only way for the sometimes deadly problem to be fixed, is for the individual to start with themselves. "The number one solution is to challenge the situation," said Gautam. "We're masters at delaying our own self-gratification and we need to change that." Lawyers, particularly law students need to understand that a balance needs to be present in order to lead a successful life, both professionally and socially. "If there's something you feel like doing that's going to make you feel better, do it!" said Gautam.

Tristan Jepson's father, George Jepson made an emotional appeal to people in the audience to do something, and help save lives. The number one job is for people to recognize the high occurrence of depression among law professionals, and for people to make a change with their lives, or to seek help. "There is a need and a huge potential to make a difference out there," said Jepson. Thankfully though, it seems that the word is getting out there, with symposiums like this one, and with books like Lawrence Krieger's new book The Hidden Sources of Law School Stress being made available.

Craig Leggat SC, who acted as commentator, also reminded the packed house that hundreds of years ago when lawyers first existed, that "lawyers were and acted as healers."