Alumnus Mark Goldstein ’10, counsel at Reed Smith LLP, wrote an op-ed in The American Lawyer about how to address and overcome mental health issues and the stigma surrounding them.
It was Oct. 16, 2017. A Monday. My wife’s 32nd birthday. A day after the Jets blew a 14-point lead to the Patriots. It was also what I thought would be the last time I would ever walk through the halls of Reed Smith, the law firm at which I had spent the past four-plus years.
Roughly six weeks earlier, I had been diagnosed with severe depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety. I felt scared. Ashamed. Crippled. As if I was going to die. Perhaps most of all, I felt alone, particularly in a profession that often stigmatizes mental health disorders. A profession that tends to label them, instead, as “burnout,” or sweep them under the rug. The symptoms of my conditions, which had likely been percolating for some time, came on suddenly and swiftly over Labor Day weekend 2017. These symptoms included not only mentally crippling cognitions, but also physically impairing side effects as well. By early the following week, I knew that this was no mere passing phase; it could not be ignored.
For the next month and a half, I sought the counsel of a small circle of family, friends and colleagues. With their support, I searched high and low for a path to reclaim a life that I felt slipping further away by the day. I attempted to persevere with my personal and professional lives.
How to Survive and Thrive
After much contemplation, I now feel comfortable sharing my story. My hope is to reach and help other legal professionals suffering with mental health issues. With that in mind, and with the obvious caveat that I have no formal mental health training, the following are a few tips for anyone who has or may find themselves in a situation similar to mine:
Speak up—and now. Forget about the perceived stigma surrounding mental health issues (and, yes, I know that’s easier said than done). There is literally nothing more important than your health and well-being.
Contact a medical and/or mental health provider (some firms provide these services free-of-charge through employee assistance programs). Many mental health disabilities can be treated and contained through medication, therapy, a combination of both or some other means. A licensed professional will be able to work with you to determine the necessary approach based on your particular set of circumstances.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. As I dole out this advice, it occurs to me that I don’t always follow these eight tips on a daily basis. But I strive to. Sometimes I fall short, sometimes I don’t. On the days when I achieve my goals, I am grateful for that (see the next tip).
Show gratitude in the good times. Anyone suffering from a mental health disorder knows there are good times and bad. In the good times, show gratitude for the people and things that make you happy.