A study from the Journal of Addiction Medicine found that lawyers are much more likely to have problems with substance abuse and experience symptoms of depressions than the rest of the population. Specifically, 21% of the lawyers surveyed were heavy drinkers and 28% experienced symptoms of depression (compared to 8% or less of the general population). Researchers also found that “lawyers are less likely to seek help than others, out of confidentiality concerns and a fear of telling others they have a problem.”
It’s a double whammy for these individuals; their occupation exposes them to stressors from client demands and long hours. Meanwhile, many feel like they cannot get help. This seed of stigma is planted early in their career. As an article in the Wall Street Journal stated, “many state licensing boards ask detailed questions about an applicant’s history of mental illness and treatment, though without disclosing how the information will be use.” Law students, fearful for their employment potentials, avoid seeing a doctor or getting diagnosed with mental health diseases.
How are law firms reacting to this knowledge? The old mentality was to sweep it under the rug. Because of the cut-throat environment, showing any signs of weakness was not an option (or so they thought). However, as the effects of mental health issues grow along with staff productivity, law firms are forced to re-think their strategy to remain competitive. To stay on top of their game, they need employees to be healthy – physically and mentally. This is why many law firms are starting to invest in mental health support resources.
Hogan Lovells, an international law firm, offers on-site psychologist services for their London, New York, and D.C. offices, and has been seeing “rousing success." Norton Rose Fulbright also works hard to eliminate the stigma around mental health issues by training 20 U.S. employees to be "mental-health first-aid responders.” The goal of these employees is to "spot warning signs of addiction or mental-health concerns and offer assistance."
While it is encouraging to hear two large law firms addressing this issue, many others are still too concerned that their competitors will say that they have “crazy lawyers.” Known for their smarts and reasoning ability, law firms need to open their eyes to see the destruction depression brings to their people and their practice. For an industry that has the 11th highest suicide rate in the U.S., there is no time to waste.