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Abraham Lincoln struggled with depression throughout his life, yet managed a successful legal career and ascended to presidency of the United States. Lincoln’s story is one of several explored in a 30-minute documentary about depression in the legal profession produced by Buffalo, N.Y.-based attorney Daniel Lukasik. Lukasik, who has spoken publicly about his own depression, founded the website Lawyers With Depression in 2007 as a resource for law students, attorneys and judges. He hopes that the recently completed documentary, “A Terrible Melancholy: Depression in the Legal Profession,” will spread the message that depression is pervasive among lawyers but that it doesn’t have to derail legal careers. (View the trailer.) “The point was to make it not just informative but a powerful emotional experience,” Lukasik said. “It’s not presented as an academic presentation on depression in the legal profession. There are powerful stories told by the people in it, and it’s meant to reach people in a way that just reporting numbers or studies wouldn’t.” The film includes first-person accounts by four attorneys and a judge who suffer from depression, as well as an account by a law student whose best friend committed suicide while in school. The documentary also includes interviews with author Joshua Wolf Shenk, who wrote Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness. Lukasik was giving a presentation last year when a documentary filmmaker approached him with the idea of making the film. Lukasik raised $30,000 from the Erie County, N.Y., Bar Foundation, the New York Lawyer Assistance Trust and the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation. As producer, writer and editor, Lukasik conducted interviews in Buffalo, New York and Seattle. He hopes the film will be screened at law schools around the country and that schools will bring in practicing lawyers who have depression to discuss their experiences in person. Although the American Bar Association launched a mental health initiative for law schools in 2008 to teach faculty and students about depression, anxiety and stress, law school still aren’t doing enough to address the problem, Lukasik said. He cited studies that show between 20 percent and 40 percent of law students struggle with depression at some point. “I think [law schools] should show this film, and they should have somebody come and speak to these law students who is a lawyer and who has depression and is willing to talk about it. Otherwise, you have more of an arm’s-length discussion of this topic and it doesn’t register with law students.” A key purpose of the film is to tackle the stigma associated with depression in the legal profession — a reality that often keeps the topic from being discussed openly. “The film is meant to educate and inform people about what depression is and what it isn’t, and also to de-stigmatize it in the legal profession,” Lukasik said. “I think it’s a huge stigma. Lawyers are supposed to be problem solvers. We’ve not supposed to have problems.” The Erie County Bar Foundation is making the film available to law schools and practitioners.

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