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What Are The Common Mental Health Struggles Of Lawyers

Jorge JohnsonNovember 4, 2021

We think of lawyers as efficient machines cutting their way in the legal world. What we fail to notice is- their jobs are high-stress, and lawyers, more often than not- are suffering the effects of this stress. The stats speak for themselves; according to studies conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, a concerning percentage of lawyers are negatively affected by their job. Attorneys are often diagnosed with mental health issues as a result, and their health gradually deteriorates.

We consulted the experts, and here is what they tell us about the common mental health struggles of lawyers.

Robert S. Herbst is an attorney, personal trainer, an expert on attorney well-being, and Chair of the New York State Bar Association Working Group on Physical Health. According to Robert...

Attorneys are under great stress from numerous factors, including the need to bill long hours and develop new business, the vicarious trauma from dealing with their clients’ life-altering problems and being in an adversarial profession where they face attacks from both adversaries and the courts. On top of that, lawyers often have obsessive, driven, perfectionist personalities and are trained to find problems. 

All this can create stress that causes lawyers to become anxious and depressed and turn to alcohol, substance abuse, and even suicide. This stress can be alleviated, however, by regular exercise and mental coping techniques which promote resilience and relaxation.

According to Joseph Gutheinz at Gutheinz Law Firm (LLP)...

As a criminal defense attorney, I hold the lives of those I represent in my hands; my decisions, good or bad, can help set a person free or condemn that person to years of imprisonment and humiliation. Some attorneys appear indifferent to this haunting reality, and others are crushed by it. 

Over the years, I have seen my colleagues develop substance abuse problems and display psychological problems that lead them to abandon the practice of law, suffer heart attacks and commit suicide. Some call what happens in a courtroom drama, and there is indeed stagecraft, intrigue, and backstabbing present. 

However, I have always seen what happens in court as a variation of combat, where too often, for one side to prevail, another side must lose and lose badly. When the defense loses, often the defendant is placed in a cell, and the defense attorney falls into a state of despair, a deep depression. 

My own father was the strongest man I had ever known, a 30-year decorated Marine Corps Infantry enlisted man turned officer who served in three wars; before becoming a lawyer at age 50, handling family law cases, I saw how the law profession beat him down. It did not help that he had to deal with Parkinson's disease at the same time. 

The saddest day of my life was when I had to tell my father that he was just too ill to continue his law practice. War did not do him in; the practice of law did. That said, serving others as a lawyer is a great honor and responsibility, and with victory comes joy. 

Dr. Holly Schiff, Psy.D, licensed clinical psychologist based in Greenwich, Connecticut. According to Dr. Holly...

There are a few common mental health struggles that lawyers experience. Lawyers are more prone to burnout, anxiety, clinical depression, and substance abuse. Lawyers tend to assume their client's burdens, have intense workloads and high demands as they work on high-stakes cases.

Law firms also have high expectations, and there are certain group norms that lawyers have to adhere to. Of course, the legal process inherently has a conflict-driven nature, and lawyers feel constantly scrutinized by opposing counsel and the courts. Many lawyers are ambitious and always striving to outperform the objective.

This, combined with the pressure from partners and daily confrontation they experience as part of their job, can lead to both anxiety and depression. With no apparent outlet for their stress, lawyers tend to engage in problematic drinking behaviors. Alcohol consumption can also be a byproduct of the professional network and socializing aspect among attorneys. 

Legal professionals can also turn to drugs to cope with the pressure to succeed as well as the heavy workload. Some rely on stimulants in order to keep them alert and awake enough to complete their work. 

Lawyers sometimes feel like they have to take on a client or a case that conflicts with their own ethical principles, and they are defending a position with which they disagree. So overwhelming stress in the legal profession tends to be the prime culprit for the mental health struggles they experience.

Shagoon Maurya is a Counselling Psychologist, Psychotherapist, and Founder of ursafespace.com. According to Shagoon...

The vast majority of legal professionals think their mental health is suffering as a result of their chosen job. Exclusion from social and interpersonal networks can increase stress as well as underlying anxiety, sadness, or mood swings. The following are some of the contributing variables in the legal profession that might contribute to the high incidence of mental illness: 

Lawyers generally tend to be perfect; Lawyers must be highly successful in their legal professions. Although this level might be beneficial when working on a customer's issue, it may also be stressful.

Lawyers are a high-stress, high-level job; Working under continual strain in a competitive sector is also the primary focus of mental health attorneys' efforts. The enormous stakes involved include the loss of property, freedom, and even life. 

Law school does not equip attorneys adequately for professional legal practice; Legal training prepares lawyers for law practice. However, a legal job needs the highest levels of communication, financial and managerial abilities. Law education doesn't adequately prepare attorneys, and few lawyers possess these talents natively. Expectations in a legal firm’s group cohesion or culture, such as high salaried employees, are there.

A pervasive burnout culture exists in the legal business; Burnout is a condition arising from persistent stress at work defined by the World Health Organization. Many attorneys suffer from continuing tiredness and stress in terms of physical and emotional depletion. 

Stigma of mental health; Jurists fear that they will receive different treatment or that mental illness will discriminate. This is a major problem that correlates to the loss or postponement of treatment for more than half of persons with mental illness. 

William Privette is a Personal Injury Attorney at Herrman and Herrman PLLC. According to William...

Historically, lawyers have struggled with mental health issues more than most professions. Being an attorney is a high-pressure job. Clients depend on you. Highly trained attorneys oppose you; refuting your every statement and a judicial system riddled with strict rules and guidelines that can trap you if you aren't careful. 

One of the most common mental health struggles that trouble the legal profession is addiction. Many attorneys turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the heightened pressure of the profession. Another mental health struggle that is prominent in the field is anxiety, fearing the unknown.

Preparing for a trial is stressful, and the many possible outcomes of a jury trial and a jury verdict are very stressful. If you are dealing with mental health struggles, it is best to speak with a professional for help.  

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