Mental Health Crisis in the Legal Profession


Mental Health Crisis in the Legal Profession

According to a study by Laura Rothstein, “the practice of law is a high-prestige, high-income, high-skill, and high-stress profession….whether because of the personalities of those who choose to enter the legal profession, professional pressures, or a combination thereof, there are significant concerns within the legal profession about the impact of stress on mental health and about substance abuse problems."

From seeking individual therapy to supporting lawyers you employ in your firm, here’s what you need to know about the mental health crisis in the legal profession.

Mental Health and Lawyers

According to the latest Mental Health and Substance Abuse Survey by American Lawyer Media, of the over 3,800 respondents interviewed,

  • 31.2% feel that they are depressed

  • 64% feel that they have anxiety

  • 10.1% feel that they have an alcohol problem

  • 2.8 feel that they have a drug problem

  • 73% confirm that they feel their work environment contributes to mental health issues, and

  • 74% confirm that they feel their profession as a lawyer has had a negative effect on their mental health over time.

Practicing law is very sensitive in that what happens on the job can have severe, sometimes life-or-death impacts in the lives of others. Holding this much responsibility demands so much of an individual’s mental and emotional capacity; as such, being under this much pressure for many, many years can put a lawyer at risk for mental health problems.

Why Are Attorneys So Likely To Be Affected?

Many factors contribute to the risk for mental health problems in the legal profession, such as:

Immense pressure

Being a lawyer doesn’t just come down to winning cases. The outcome of those cases could mean someone going to jail for the rest of their life, going bankrupt in order to pay an exorbitant fine, or having a conviction on your permanent record for the rest of your life.

All these things can have an enormous impact on a client’s personal life, and it is up to the lawyer to perform well and minimize as much negative impact on them as possible.

Being responsible for another person’s future can put an incredible amount of pressure on a lawyer, which can be detrimental to their mental health over time.

Conflicts of morality

Lawyers sometimes have to represent clients that they know are guilty and sometimes they watch innocent clients lose their cases. They may wish they would have done more to help, and these thoughts can weigh on their mind long after their cases are over.

Lack of work-life balance

Other professions may stick strictly to their 9-to-5 schedule, but lawyers often take their readings home with them and pull long nights at the office. They may be unable to disconnect from work fully, never giving their brain a chance to rest and reset. They may also have trouble getting enough quality sleep to heal and restore their body.

This lack of time for rest and self-care leads to a higher risk of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

What Are Some Signs Of Poor Mental Health?

Some common signs of mental health problems in a professional legal setting include,

  • Missing work

  • Irritability

  • Forgetting tasks

  • Feeling distracted

  • Excessive worry about a case

  • Sadness or emptiness that won’t go away

  • Becoming disorganized

  • Lethargy

  • Showing up late

  • Disinterest in cases

Some people miss the signs of mental illness in themselves and others for a long time. This can cause the problem to become worse. By the time they seek help, they may have already turned first to unhealthy coping methods such as alcoholism or substance abuse

How Can Firms Help?

Law firms need to be active in watching for signs of mental health problems in their attorney and staff. Given that they do high-pressure, mentally taxing work and demand top-quality performance from their lawyers, it is the firm’s responsibility to ensure that their lawyers receive the necessary support.

Firms should do their part by offering mental health screenings to the attorneys they employ. If signs do appear, they must make sure the attorney gets the proper care and that diverse types of resources are available to them.

What Resources Are Available?

Individual therapy, counseling, support groups, and reading reference materials are just a few of the different types of resources that are available to firms and the attorney who works for them.

Here are a few:

What Can You Do?

If you are worried about your mental health or the mental well-being of the lawyers you employ, you can reach out to a therapist to see what you can do.

As an individual, it is in your personal and professional interest to seek help if you feel that your job as a lawyer has been getting you down. In your battles in the courtroom, your strongest weapon is yourself. In order to keep performing at your best for your clients and your career, you’ll need to be at top physical and emotional health.

And of course, you deserve to be at peace and live a mentally healthy life simply by default!

As a firm, one of the best things you can do is to make counseling available (and ideally, free) for all members. This makes it easy for them to get help without having to go well out of their way to find it. It also helps remove the stigma associated with mental health concerns in the profession. Getting therapy should be treated as normally and positively as going to the dentist.

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If you practice around the Redondo Beach area, South Bay LA Therapy is here to help lawyers with all types of therapy and counseling. Contact us today to see what our mental health professionals can do for you.