WSBA President Majumdar Discusses His Mental Health Journey and Stigma: Part 1

Rajeev Majumdar

When Rajeev Majumdar first started going to therapy, “At the time it felt like the very bottom of my life,” he explained during an interview on Beyond the A, a podcast that shares stories from legal professionals about anxiety and other mental health issues.

But for Majumdar, president of the WSBA, taking that step to go to therapy meant treading down a path that, to him, initially felt like failure.

I said, ‘I am an intellectual, I don’t need assistance; I can think through any problem,’” he said in that interview. “’I don’t need any outside help; that would be too weak.’”

This is especially true among the legal profession where lawyers not only take on their clients’ stresses and anxieties and work absurdly long hours, but can become trapped in the mindset that therapy equals weakness equals the end their career. For Majumdar, that changed in 2007 when he began seeking help for the anxiety and depression that had long before grown beyond his ability to tackle on his own.

Since then, I’ve put an effort in trying to talk about these things because I want other people not to have to be in that position for as long as I was,” he said. “And that’s the problem: I waited so long. I was unnecessarily suffering and I was unnecessarily not serving my clients or my friends or my family or the people around me. I wasn’t able to do my job to the best of my ability; because if you are riddled with suffering, you’re not going to be doing your best work.”

But for a disproportionate number of lawyers, anxiety, depression, and substance use frequently go untreated. “Too often, lawyers, judges, and law students find themselves wrestling privately with frustration and despair as an addiction or mental health problem dominates their life and threatens their career,” the American Bar Association wrote as part of its mental health anti-stigma campaign.

Asked what he might write to himself at the beginning of his legal career, Majumdar told Beyond the A: “You aren’t going to believe what’s going to happen because you can’t contemplate it. It is outside of the scope of your imagination. There are going to be really awful times, but in the end it’s going to be fantastic!”

Recently, Majumdar took a little more time to speak with NWSidebar about his mental health journey and what he hopes sharing it will do for others in the legal profession. Below you will find part of that conversation, so check back with NWSidebar soon for the second part of our interview.

We first followed up on one of the points he made on the podcast, that lawyers tend to conflate receiving help with weakness, and asked how he overcame his own reservations in order to seek therapy. In addition to the support he received from the Seattle University School of Law, which provides students with free access to a therapist, Majumdar said the support he received from friends and family gave him the nudge he needed.

Rajeev Majumdar: My mother was very supportive of the idea. I was going through a tough time and she really wanted me to seek therapy and work out some of these issues. So that was great. I had two things already playing in my favor…. I had a family that was supportive of these issues, and I had an academic environment that had the resources to provide me these opportunities…. So when I think about that, I think about: How does the WSBA get to this problem about conflating help with weakness, and overcoming feelings of weakness? Because as we talked about in the podcast, so much of being a lawyer is not representing a weak position, it’s trying to put your client in the best and strongest, position….

Another problem with lawyers is we delve deep into things. And we’ve become experts in all kinds of things—beyond just the processes of law—but it tends to make us think that we can solve all of the problems or become experts in all our problems. And this is kind of an issue where you need to be able to let go and step back and get some distance…. I think cultivating an awareness that everyone deals with mental-health issues is important. And I think realizing that part of being a fantastic lawyer, part of being a strong lawyer, is dealing with those issues.

And just like my law school provided me the support I needed to be the best, I think about the fact that if we want our members to be their best, WSBA needs to triple or quadruple down on wellness resources for our members if society isn’t going to address the problem in general.

NWSidebar: Did you have any concerns or hesitancy making that, I don’t want to call it an admission, but the first time you started talking to people who didn’t know that you were going to therapy…?

Majumdar: Huge concerns, and I have huge concerns right now, just having this interview with you is giving me huge concerns and how the story is going to come out.

I think I have a duty to talk about it because of the position I’m in. I have one opportunity… and this is a problem that plagues our profession, well actually plagues our society, but lawyers in particular are rife with anxiety, depression, alcoholism, gambling, addictions, and families that fall apart. And I think talking about it isn’t right for everyone. And frankly, even doing the story or the podcast is not a good “career” move for me … but I thought about it a lot and I’m at a place in my career and my health where I can afford to help my professional siblings. And even if it only helps one or two people—it would just be great if it helped one or two people—it would be worth it.