By Phil Han
University of Technology
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."