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Do Lawyers Have More Mental Health Problems Than Other Professions?

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Benjamin Sells spoke to an audience of lawyers reporting the facts about depression and mental health problems in the legal profession during which he told them:
  • ''One in four lawyers suffer from elevated feelings of psychological distress. Highest on the list of complaints are interpersonal feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, followed closely by anxiety, social alienation, isolation, and depression.
  • Out of 105 occupations surveyed, lawyers rank first in experiencing depression.
  • Among male lawyers, 28 percent said they were dissatisfied with their work while 41 percent of female lawyers said they were dissatisfied — both numbers are roughly double since those reported in 1984.
  • A disproportionate number of lawyers commit suicide, often at an age when they would be expected to be most socially productive.
  • Substance abuse is a factor in up to 80 percent of all disciplinary complaints.''1

After the speech a lawyer approached Sells with a question, ''you know, having one out of four lawyers depressed really isn't all that bad. I mean that's probably about the proportion for everybody, right?''2 Sells felt like the man's question represented the legal profession's thinking about depression and other mental illnesses. Really, the legal profession can't be worse than everybody else, right? Yes, the legal profession is worse, when out of most occupations, lawyers rank higher in depression. The bar has realized that there is a drug problem and the bar provided a way for its members to get help. So Sells asks why can't the Bar spend a little more money to expand help to deal with depression. After all, most of society has accepted the treatment of mental health problems as being appropriate.

Sells thinks that with the lawyer bashing that goes on, the profession is hesitant to face up to these problems within their ranks. Nevertheless, something needs to be done to dispel the belief among lawyers that seeking help can be stigmatizing.

Even though the bar has not invested in a program to offer treatment to depressed lawyers, there is help available elsewhere if the feeling of reproach for seeking help can be overcome. Freud (Father of psychoanalysis) often treated his patients in secret when psychoanalysis was a social taboo. We have come a long way from that old Victorian judgment.

In Conclusion, Sells says there is a lot more research that needs to be done to face the problem of depression in the legal profession. Therapists need to do more research to identify the factors of the work that cause more depression for lawyers. The Bar needs to look into the possibilities of adding on another helping branch to their drug program for depression. And most important, the negative implication of seeking help for depression needs to be resolved.

1 Sells, Benjamin, 'Facing the truth about Depression in the Profession', March 1, 1995., Florida Bar News.
2 Sells, Benjamin, 'Facing the truth about Depression in the Profession', March 1, 1995., Florida Bar News.

About Harrison Barnes
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Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

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