Rocket Matter has published a series of five excellent articles on depression and substance abuse among lawyers. They represent a valuable reminder that – given the competitive nature of our work, its heavy workloads, long hours, and limitless opportunities for stress – even some of the most successful lawyers in the world are prone to depression, inappropriate levels of self-medication, and even suicidal thoughts.
The introductory instalment in the series, “Investigative Report: Mental Health and Substance Abuse Threaten the Legal Profession,” points out that “A Johns Hopkins University study of more than 100 professions revealed that lawyers are 3.6 times as likely to be depressed as people with other jobs, while the landmark 2016 American Bar Association (ABA) and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation study determined that 28% of licensed, employed lawyers suffer depression.”
A major problem facing those who experience unhealthy levels of stress and/or depression is that they perceive a lack of support from their professional colleagues. In a career that is marked from law school forward by competition, deadlines, demands for perfection, and expectations of mental toughness, most stressed-out lawyers feel that they need to hide their anxiety and – for as long as possible – the manifestations of it.
Lawyers are fearful that if they share they’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or substance abuse they will be seen as incompetent or unable to complete their duties at work. – Whitney Hawkins, psychotherapist
To address this issue, the legal profession as a whole must follow the leadership of other sectors of society, and recognize that mental distress does not define those who are suffering from it, that it is not an indication of weakness, and that it is manageable and even treatable. Admitting that there is a problem is the first step, but with many of those who suffer too intimidated to face the shame of making such an admission, it is up to all of us to make space to allow the discussion to begin.
The other articles in the Rocket Matter series are: “An Interview with Brian Cuban: The Addicted Lawyer“; “Lawyers and Depression: How to Recognize the Signs and Where to Get Help“; “Top Five Ways to Avoid Stress in the Legal Profession“; and “Preventing Stress: Lawyers Share How They Stay Mentally Healthy.”
These five articles, along with The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, which was an outcome of the ABA/Hazelden study, should be mandatory reading for all lawyers in your firm. Whether you suffer from depression yourself or work with someone who does, they make valuable reading and could even save a life.
I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.