Depression and mental illness affect the best and brightest among us, as well as those less fortunate. In fact, lawyers themselves suffer from depression at a rate higher than any other profession, according to a study by Johns Hopkins University. (“Occupations and the Prevalence of Major Depressive Disorder,” 32 Journal of Occupational Medicine 1079 (1990). In fact, approximately ¼ of lawyers suffer from depression. But, depression is not just a lawyer’s concern. Many of our clients suffer from depression or mental illness, as do their intended beneficiaries. Many of those in the public eye whom we hold dearest suffer from depression. Just this week, Robin Williams, an actor beloved by millions, died from an apparent suicide after a bout of severe depression. As President Obama said about Williams, “…he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most…” Williams’ death brought new focus to the problems of depression, and mental illness in general.
What can we, as estate planning attorneys, do about this?
- If you are suffering from depression, you can contact your state bar’s Lawyer’s Assistance Program. The American Bar Association provides links to the programs in every state.
- If you have a friend or client who is suffering from depression, you may find this link to the Mayo Clinic’s website to be helpful.
- If your client has beneficiaries who may be suffering from depression or mental illness, you will want to discuss with your client how that may alter the manner in which assets are left to the beneficiary. For example, if the mental illness is not controlled, the client may want to leave assets in a trust for the beneficiary. This might apply to a child or even to the client’s own spouse.
- You may want to help a charity working in this area. For example, the Carter Center, on whose National Planned Giving Advisory Board I serve, does significant work in the mental health area, as well as its more well-known work eliminating little-known diseases in poverty stricken areas.
However you choose to help fight depression and mental illness, being aware of the issues and removing the stigma of discussing the topic are the first steps.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555
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