A study by Johns Hopkins University examining more than 100 occupations revealed that lawyers are more than three-and-a-half times at risk of depression and anxiety-related issues than other professionals. Furthermore, a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Safety study concluded caucasian male attorneys are more likely to commit suicide than their non lawyer counterparts. A 2014 survey of Yale Law School students, titled Falling Through the Cracks, found that 70% struggled with mental health issues while in law school.
Indeed, mental health disorders deeply affect the daily lives of attorneys and their ability to function. Physical manifestations of these include irritability, difficulty concentrating, feelings of inadequacy, obsessive thoughts, sleep disturbances, heart palpitations, fatigue and muscle tension, sweating, and a sense of worry or impending danger. Some attorneys cope with these overwhelming feelings, thoughts, and emotions by withdrawing from peers or friends and family, or self-medicating with alcohol and drugs, or avoiding responsibility all together.
According to studies, two character traits common among lawyers — pessimism and perfectionism — make them prone to anxiety. In the Johns Hopkins study, optimism outperformed pessimism except in the legal field. This is likely because attorneys are supposed to think of a preempt everything that is supposed to go wrong. When perfectionism is taken to the extreme, it can result in the feeling that nothing is ever good enough. And, often, looking at risk and potential problems goes outside of the office and becomes a way of life for attorneys.
There are proven and healthy coping mechanism that anyone — including attorneys — can use to help reduce anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. One main way to de-stress is to meditate. In fact, meditation is gaining acceptance across the legal industry with even law schools on the east and west coasts offering mindfulness courses to students. Professionals, particularly attorneys, can be resistant to meditation because of common stereotypes associated with the practice. Practicing mindfulness and undergoing other small changes can help lawyers pinpoint their thought patterns and help do away with those stress-inducing thoughts that do not have a basis in reality.
Mental Health Affects Efficiency
Experts on the issue insist that staying present — or practicing mindfulness — is essential for both mental health and law practice because it keeps lawyers efficient. A Yale Law School study revealed that 50% of respondents noted that mental health challenges affected their ability to perform in their academic life. The same effect translates over to the practice of law. Stressed-out attorneys can make bad decisions, leaving them at risk of liability. In fact, mindfulness and its benefits have become a trending topic among legal professional responsibility groups, according the American Bar Association.
If you or someone you know practices law and is having difficulty coping with mental stress factors, make sure to engage in mindfulness and try to seek professional help to keep yourself from burning out or indulging in self-destructive behaviors.