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Depression In The Legal Profession

Depression In The Legal Profession

Depression In The Legal Profession

Published: July 5, 2022

Being a lawyer is a stressful job. Initially, it is difficult to become a law student, having to obtain consistently high grades to get into law school. Then, it takes years of being in law school to get qualified. The legal industry is a very competitive field and those practicing law are under constant pressure.

What many people may not know, is that many lawyers suffer from anxiety and depression as a result. If you are in the legal profession and you are suffering from mental health issues, know that you are not alone.

Those seeking a legal career should be mindful of the high stress this may bring and the significant impact this may cause on their life. Statistics show much higher rates of anxiety and depression among the law profession than the general population.

What is Depression?

Depression is more than just experiencing a low mood. It can affect a person's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. There are different types of depression, ranging in severity. Some types of depression can go away on their own, while others require professional help.

Depression is the most common mental illness globally. The World Health Organization reports that 5% of adults suffer from the condition worldwide.

In the case of lawyer depression, lawyers tend to report symptoms of major (or clinical) depression. Major depression is a serious issue and for a medical diagnosis, the patient must experience symptoms for more than two weeks.

What Are The Symptoms of Depression?

Depression looks different for everyone, and someone may have one or all of the symptoms. Some common symptoms of depression are:

  • Feeling of hopelessness
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Emotional eating
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts

What Causes Depression in The Legal Profession?

Many lawyers are depressed due to the extreme stress they are under. The industry is extremely competitive, with attorneys fighting for the best jobs with high-profile clients.

An attorney is required to work more than 40 hours a week regularly with very little room to nourish other parts of their lives. There are different types of legal practice areas, ranging in stress. Lawyers who work in corporate, criminal, and family law are under huge amounts of stress.

Substance Abuse Among Lawyers

Another alarming finding among those who practice law is the high rate of binge drinking and substance use. It is not uncommon for lawyers to drink alcohol after work to release stress from their day. Using substances to cope with stress is considered a negative coping strategy, and over time, it can develop into full-blown alcoholism. Over 20.6% of attorneys report personal alcohol abuse.

Due to to the high rates of depression among lawyers, it is unsurprising that there are high levels of substance abuse. Depression and substance abuse often exist comorbidly, as alcohol and other drugs can provide a temporary respite from the pain of mental illness.

A depressed lawyer at a big law firm may be under more pressure than they can handle. Feeling like they are unable to ask for support due to the nature of their work, they may become reliant on substances for relief.

Dealing With Lawyer Depression In The Industry

The issue of lawyer well-being has become so widely known that a task force was specifically set up to improve mental health in the industry. The task force released The Path To Lawyer Well-Being. This report outlined a few key ways mental health disorders can be prevented among legal professionals, such as:

  • Reducing the stigma against seeking support in law firms and law schools
  • Encouraging law firms to take responsibility for the well-being of their attorneys
  • Emphasizing that a healthy lawyer is a good lawyer
  • Educating everyone in the profession about well-being: judges, lecturers, and law students
  • Creating a brighter future by improving how legal work is done

Preventing Lawyer Depression

The American Bar Association (ABA) Journal regularly explores the question 'why are lawyers depressed?' and how to promote well-being. The Survey of Law Student Well-Being surveyed 3,300 students from 15 different law schools. The report showed alarming figures: 25% of students were already at risk of being an alcoholic, 17% showed symptoms of depression, 37% had anxiety, and 6% reported having thoughts of suicide in the past year.

The findings strongly suggest that the foundations of depression in the legal industry start among students at law school. What is particularly revealing is the student's attitude toward seeking help. Around 42% had admitted feeling like they needed professional help for their mental health, but only half of them sought it out.

Why Law Students Don't Seek Help

According to the survey, there are a few reasons law students don't seek support for their mental health. Students fear if they seek help:

  • They won't be admitted to the state bar
  • Their student status will be affected
  • It will affect their career/job applications
  • They will be judged because of social stigma
  • They don't trust their privacy will be protected
  • They don't have financial access to help
  • They don't have enough time

Many law students who are struggling report feeling like they shouldn't need to ask for help, as they should be able to handle the issue themselves. The perfect storm is created when someone is suffering from mental health problems, is under huge academic pressure, and is not asking for help. This highlights the critical need for law students to have access to support.

Risk Factors

The risk of lawyer depression does not cease after law school and practicing law can be an incredibly demanding profession. The legal professional sees high rates of suicide compared to the general population and this could be the result of many different factors.

Long-Term Pressure

After law school, the student has to pass the state bar in order to become a licensed legal professional. The bar is notoriously hard to pass and some states have high failure rates. Someone who fails to pass the bar may struggle with anxiety and depression.

The role of an attorney in a law firm is a very demanding job and it can be difficult to find a work/life balance. Attorneys are notorious for having long working hours, leaving little time for hobbies, friends, and family life. Overworking can create burnout and deeply affect a person's mental well-being.

Even if someone has made it through law school and has a successful legal career, they still need to be consistently on top of their game. Many successful legal professionals have had to deal with issues such as malpractice claims that can even see their law license revoked.

The Survey of Law Student Well-Being surveyed over 13,000 lawyers who had established legal careers. Of all the lawyers surveyed, 11.4% stated they felt if they committed suicide, it would solve their problems.

How Can Law Firms Protect Their Lawyers?

The evidence is clear that much needs to be done to change the pressure lawyers face and the partners in a law firm have a responsibility to ensure their attorneys are healthy. Some ways that a law firm could improve its practice include:

  1. Provide access to mental health support
  2. Ensuring each attorney doesn't have more clients than they can handle
  3. Allowing lawyers more time off for their own lives

To minimize the stigma against mental health that most lawyers are afraid of, encourage each attorney to talk about mental health and its importance. It is difficult to be a lawyer or to work in any demanding profession if one is already struggling.

It just takes one lawyer at a firm to normalize seeking help. The ultimate effect of happy lawyers is an improved practice and thus, successful outcomes for clients.

Treatment Methods

There are many different treatment methods for depression. In order to find the right treatment, it is important to determine the cause and severity of the issue. Discussing symptoms with a mental health professional can be an excellent way to find a suitable treatment.

Treating Mild Depression

A person suffering from depression or other mental health issues can feel hopeless. It is important to remember there are many ways to manage and treat these conditions. Mild depression, such as depression caused by workload can be significantly helped by lifestyle changes. Examples of good self-care practices include:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating healthy
  • Doing regular exercise
  • Spending time with friends and family
  • Journaling your thoughts and feelings

Treating Severe Depression

For more serious forms of depression, speaking to a mental health professional can be extremely beneficial. Treatments that have been proven to help severe forms of depression include:

  • Talk Therapy: Talk therapy is a form of therapy where a patient discusses their issues with a trained counselor.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a form of therapy that is beneficial for those who suffer from depressive or anxious episodes. CBT works by changing the way you usually think and encourages positive thinking.
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS): TMS therapy is a non-invasive procedure that stimulates the brain with a magnetic field. It targets a specific area of the brain with an electric current. It has been proven to help those suffering from depression that has been resistant to other forms of treatment.
  • Medication: A doctor may prescribe benzodiazepines or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) drugs to help with mental health problems.

GIA Miami

Many lawyers struggle with depressive episodes and substance abuse. GIA Miami is an outpatient facility in Miami that has licensed mental health professionals trained to treat depression and addiction issues. GIA Miami offers a consultation to discuss an individual's needs.

GIA Miami understands that all depression is unique, so we guarantee confidentiality as well as finding a way to fit treatment into a busy schedule. Call us today to design a treatment plan specifically for you and your needs.

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