Thomson Reuters is part of a strategic alliance with the Law Society of New South Wales (the Law Society). Among the many services the Law Society offers its members is access to telephone crisis services provided by Lifeline for Lawyers, just one prong in the profession’s efforts to address the prevalence of depression and mental health issues among legal practitioners.
Depression and mental health issues in the legal industry
Although not a great deal of research has been conducted into depression within the legal industry, the findings that have arisen are cause for concern. The Sydney University Brain & Mind Research Institute’s 2009 study conducted in conjunction with the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation titled, Courting the Blues: attitudes towards depression in Australian law students and legal practitioners (the Institute Study) found that there was a high level of psychological distress and risk of depression among law students, and legal practitioners when compared to other professionals, and other classes of tertiary students.
High levels of distress and depression amongst lawyers
Some of the key findings from the Institute Study paint a sombre picture of those working within the legal industry when compared to the general population. For instance, 22.3% of solicitors reported high levels of distress, compared to 9.2% of the population, and a further 8.7% reported very high levels of distress, compared to 3.8% of the general population. The numbers for barristers were slightly better than for solicitors when compared to the general population, with 12.5% of barristers reporting high levels of distress, compared to 9.2% of the general population, and 4.2% reported very high levels of distress when compared to 3.8% of the general population: Law Society of New South Wales, Mental Health Statistics and Seeking Help.
In terms of depression among the respondents of the Institute Study, 55.7% of solicitors and 52.5% of barristers reported they had experienced depression.
The results from the Institute Study make for dismal reading for those working within the legal profession. However, there were some encouraging signs that although lawyers experienced higher levels of distress and depression when compared to other segments within the community, they were more likely to be more responsive in seeking assistance for their issues in certain cases. The 2011 Annual Business and Professions Study, conducted by the Beaton Research and Consulting Group in conjunction with beyondblue (beyondblue Study), found that 22% of lawyers who responded to the beyondblue Study had the highest levels of mental health training when compared to other professionals, although, 73.3% agreed that having a stressful profession increased the likelihood of depression as well.
Stigmatisation of depression within the legal industry
What is particularly disheartening about the results found in the Institute Study is that there were significant barriers for lawyers wanting to seek help for depression due to the perception of the lack of effectiveness of treatment from mental health professionals, and that participants of the survey “agreed with a variety of negative views about depressed people, which might have a detrimental effect on their seeking assistance for their own depression, or in assisting their peers or employees.” (p 42).
The findings of the Institute Study outlining the reluctance of lawyers in seeking help for any mental issues due to negative views of depressed people, is echoed by the comments of the General Manager of the not-for-profit organisation, R U OK?, Brendan Maher, who made similar observations during the launch of the “Look Deeper” campaign promoting mental wellbeing and connectedness within the legal industry. “We’ve found that many legal professionals feel the need to deflect enquiries into their emotional or mental wellbeing, in case it’s perceived as a poor reflection on their abilities and competence,” Mr Maher said in the R U OK? article, ‘New campaign urges legal profession to “Look Deeper”.
When we consider that almost seven people die by suicide every day, and a further 200 people will attempt to take their life daily, as reported in the R U OK? article, Some facts about people working in law, removing the stigma surrounding mental health issues is of the utmost importance, especially within the legal industry.
Lifeline for Lawyers – 1800 085 062