Particularly with the pandemic, we need to pay attention to feelings of ‘languish,’ which although not a diagnosable mental illness, could be a risk factor for depression and other mental health conditions.
“Languishing describes low mental well-being in the absence of a diagnosable mental health condition,” as described in a recent Verywell Health article, which followed up on a recent New York Times article by organizational psychologist Adam Grant. Grant described languish as “a sense of stagnation and emptiness,” associated with feelings of joylessness and aimlessness, dulled motivation, disrupted focus. Grant connects a rise in cases of languish with the pandemic, which might be fair enough to say even though he doesn’t offer the supporting data. (Related: Hard Times: Balancing Positive Psychology & Disaster Psychology in the Legal Profession)
While languish itself doesn’t amount to burnout, depression, and other mental illnesses, both articles share studies that demonstrate languish to be a risk factor. As such, Grant describes languish as “the neglected middle child of mental health,” with a spectrum from depression to flourishing. However, the Verywell Health article illustrates an important second dimension to Grant’s single plane.
The full picture shows intersecting planes, with ‘mental illness’ on the X-axis (from absence to presence) and ’mental well-being’ on the Y-axis (from languishing to flourishing), and is the core of the 2002 research in which Corey Keyes coined the term ‘languish’. Someone can live with mental illness, including depression, and be flourishing with high mental well-being.
Responding to Languish
For those of us who suspect we’re experiencing low mental well-being known as languish, talking with a licensed therapist can help. Symptoms of languish overlap with those of diagnosable and treatable mental illnesses, and in the absence of a diagnosis, licensed therapists can still offer help by suggesting strategies to improve mental well-being. Lawyers, law students, judges, and other legal professionals in Massachusetts can schedule a Free & Confidential consultation with one of our licensed clinicians — find more here.
Applying tools and techniques to improve mental well-being typically involves trial and error. As individuals, we need to pay close attention to ourselves, and it often helps to have a partner in our accountability — which therapists can be effective at. Labeling the feelings alone might help, as both articles suggest. Grant suggests making time to experience ‘flow’ is among the most effective techniques, while Verywell Health contends the top option is practicing mindfulness, and also notes that researchers are reviewing mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other interventions that may help further. One might try other well-being basics like focusing on improving sleep, breathing, personal connections, and maybe even ‘essentialism in law practice’.
For managers looking to support employees’ mental well-being, Verywell Health provide three key suggestions: (1) Setting clear goals, (3) Providing support (time & resources) they need, (3) Acknowledging their work and progress.
Free & Confidential Consultations:
Lawyers, law students, and judges in Massachusetts can discuss concerns with a licensed therapist, law practice advisor, or both. Find more on scheduling here.