The legal profession is under attack.
According to results gathered from a survey, lawyers face a formidable warrior—a mental health disorder. In fact, the outstanding percentage of attorneys affected by a psychological problem indicates trouble.
From a small group of 12,825 licensed law practitioners, some 19%, 23%, and 28% struggle with anxiety, stress, and depression, respectively. These conditions have repercussions on a lawyer’s practice, as their work-life is thrown out of balance.
What’s worse, in comparison to other occupational groups, lawyers are least inclined to seek mental health assistance. This has grown into a big problem in the United States and other areas since suicide is rising among law attorneys.
Lawyers are Committing Suicide
A mental health disorder isn’t a problem to sweep under the rug. However, most of us are well aware of the stigma associated with depression and other psychological issues. When these soar within the legal arena, it’s an even bigger problem.
This problem is seen in the numbers, as lawyers were ranked 5th in cases of suicide by profession. Of a group of lawyers who participated in a study, 11.5% informed that they had lingering suicidal ideations, while 0.7% reported an attempt, at least once.
Rather than seek support, many attorneys become overwhelmed and conquered by depression to the point of suicide.
Why Lawyers are Least Likely to Seek Support
Fear of Being Seen as Weak and Inept
Lawyers have their emotions to contend with. They are naturally driven and analytical individuals in a field that require detachment from their emotions, with a focus on evidence and bureaucracy.
A lawyer is expected to wear a strong, forceful, and confident personality. A personality befitting of awe and admiration.
Having a mental disorder is like a fall from grace. This condition leaves an attorney rippled with the very thing they disconnect from in their profession—their emotions.
People with mental disorders struggle to identify with and control their emotions. In this state, a lawyer may experience dread, hopelessness, anger, irritability, and even self-loathing. A law practitioner with ebbs and flow of varying emotions is terrified and, worse, out of control.
They may avoid seeking mental health support because it hurts their pride and confidence. These individuals are accustomed to solving people’s problems, not the other way around.
Fear of Losing Their Job
A law firm’s primary agenda is to onboard new business and augment its profits. This means their employees are encouraged to work later hours to meet their requirements.
Lawyers with a mental health issue fear that they’ll be viewed as ineffective by their employers. “If word ever got out, my employers would see me as weak, a liability,” recounts an anonymous lawyer who battled with depression. Most attorneys dread the repercussions associated with a revelation and admittance to a mental health disorder.
Despite the job’s nature, lawyers get pleasure and fulfillment from the work they put in. Perhaps it’s the image associated with the profession or the joy that comes from helping others.
Either way, lawyers love what they do and, for that reason, would prefer to keep their jobs. Hence, they struggle in silence, hoping that the tides would change.
A lawyer may cover over his mental health status because of growing financial obligations and the need to care for his family. Also, law school isn’t cheap, and some practitioners may be covered in debts. For these, and other reasons, some lawyers choose to maintain silence to not jeopardize their jobs.
The law profession comes with unrealistic expectations. Attorneys are high achievers who elevate the bar and intend to climb it regardless. A touch of mental disorder is enough to throw a lawyer off course.
These individuals are driven perfectionists who cringe at the thought of something going awry. Because of perfectionism and pride, a lawyer may refuse to deny that there is a problem and help is needed. Most attorneys try to stay in control, even if the problem is beyond them.
The Busy Bee
Lawyers are often flushed with work.
Work demands already make it next to impossible to live casual, social lives. Adding therapy sessions to the mix complicates their time and infringes on the little they set aside for family affairs.
Most therapy sessions range from 45 minutes to 60 minutes. This may seem like a lot of time from a lawyer’s perspective, especially when therapy sessions are ongoing, weekly obligations.
Therapy sessions for mental health disorders do require consistent, dedicated time for the subject to make progress. Some lawyers simply can’t seem to wiggle these sessions into their lives.
Lawyers are esteemed individuals who’ll not go unscathed from society’s wrath should they defect.
Society elevates the legal profession.
Most people idolize lawyers and the “perfect” life they sport. Society expects lawyers to rake in the big moola. Society also expects lawyers to live prestigious lives, taking frequent getaways to isolated, luxury islands.
Furthermore, society expects lawyers to have their life together.
A lawyer with mental health problems elicits the wrong sort of attention. That attorney is no longer idealized by society but viewed as a common person with ‘human’ problems. A lawyer no longer sports a superhuman cape but wears defeat, like The Joker (no pun intended).
Because of society’s elevated view of lawyers, they face added burdens. Those lawyers who realize that they do need help, are paralyzed by thoughts of being criticized or stripped of their accolades, as if they were lepers with a contagion.
Cultural representation and the stigma associated with a mental health challenge make it difficult for lawyers to publicize how they feel.
Hence, most lawyers live with their mental health conundrum, struggling in solitude, while others succumb to suicide.
Fear of Being Sued for Malpractice or Disbarment
The legal profession is bound by the professional code of ethics. Attorneys are expected to handle their client’s affairs in a manner that doesn’t cause harm or loss to the subject.
A lawyer with depression may be seen as weak and incapable of representing others by the firm he associates with or colleagues. Firms find this problematic and a liability. The anonymous lawyer referenced from the outset is a model example of what could go wrong when depression sets in.
The writer of the article explained that his equity partners later found out about his situation, and he was eventually swept under the rug. It’s hard for lawyers to divulge their mental state, all while knowing that there is the possibility that they would be looked at differently.
If a client believes that a lawyer was incompetent while representing their case, they could sue for malpractice. Having their condition thrown out there could be a recipe for disaster, as it could be weaponized against them. Since many lawyers may be guilty of substance abuse, this complicates the situation. Hence, rather than seek support and reach out for help, their mouths are kept sealed about their affliction.
To supplement, a lawyer may face disbarment if his work isn’t up to standards. According to the Legal Information Institute, a legal professional could be disbarred if a “consistent lack of attention to clients” can be proven or if the lawyer practices “alcoholism or drug abuse.” Both situations affect a lawyer’s ability to practice effectively.
Disclosing a mental health condition seems to make a lawyer vulnerable.
What Can You Do?
Do you have a loved one in the legal profession with a mental health disorder but refuses to seek help? The information presented in this article should give you a bit of perspective into why your loved one isn’t forthcoming about the situation.
A mental health disorder can be debilitating.
Your lawyer friend or relative is having a hard time coming to grips with what’s happening. Lead with love and patience. They need all the encouragement they can get. Some lawyers may be tempted to isolate or withdraw, but that’s when support is needed the most.
Keep encouraging them to get help.
Help them to appreciate that their fears are normal, but not seeking help may cause the situation to deteriorate and end badly. The very thing they fear could happen if their mental health worsens.
As a mental health coach, I work alongside lawyers in a setting that makes them comfortable and at ease. Their sessions are private and confidential. They are given a safe space to heal and work to deal with their mental health disorder. Encourage your loved one to book a free 30-minute coaching session and work to nip depression in the bud.