Biglaw, Health Care / Medicine

Are There Tons of Depressed, Substance-Abusing Lawyers Out There?

lawyer depression depressed lawyers above the law.jpgYesterday, we asked you to take a poll about your happiness with the decision to become an attorney. Of the over 4000 poll takers (as of the time of this posting), approximately 60% said they were satisfied with the decision, but about 17% responded with “I hate my life.” On that note, did you know that lawyers lapse into serious psychic distress at a rate about double that of the general population?

The Cleveland Bar Association mentions this fact (among others) in its campaign to raise awareness about lots of disturbing trends among lawyers: depression, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual neuroses… (Okay, not that last one, but based on ATL comments, it may be a problem for some of our readers.)

Some of the ways in which you are all f***ed up, from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

  • About 10 percent of the U.S. population suffers from drug and alcohol addiction. But 18 to 20 percent of lawyers are alcoholics and drug addicts, says the ABA.
  • Lawyers are more depressed than dentists: “A 1990s study at Johns Hopkins University put the likelihood of depression among lawyers as first among 28 occupations studied, a rate 3.6 times higher than employed people overall.”
  • “Suicide is among the leading causes of premature death among lawyers. A 1992 report of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found the rate of suicide among male lawyers to be double that of men in general.”

    If you weren’t depressed before, perhaps you are now. So why are lawyers so glum?

    Psychologists and counselors cite a number of reasons why lawyers are more prone than average to sink into despair. They are praised and highly paid for being aggressive, intellectual and emotionally detached.

    Other potential reasons for the despair, after the jump.

    Beyond the required emotional detachment, there are other factors that encourage psychotic behavior depression for lawyers, like putting the client first:

    Zealously representing a client’s interests, no matter one’s internal feelings about a case, “teaches us to do things that really go against human nature,” said Tennessee Circuit Court Judge Robert Childers, chairman of the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs.

    Some lawyers, especially those in criminal and domestic relations law, deal with “psychic battering,” according to a 2002 report in the Michigan Bar Journal – repeated exposure to violent and nasty human behavior.

    … and being a perfectionist:

    Perfectionism is another occupational hazard, probably for good reason. Miss a deadline for filing a court document, fail to fully quiz an opposing witness and a case can be thrown out, a life altered.

    (Of course, not being a perfectionist can lead to greater depression. Like for this associate.)

    … and, finally, the depressing effect of living a life monetized to the minute:

    The hounding for billable hours, a livelihood put together in six-minute increments, also breeds disillusionment.

    Consider yourselves warned. Try to cheer up. And try to stay away from the blow and smack.

    Cleveland bar raises awareness of lawyers’ depression [Cleveland Plain Dealer]

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