Paul L. Caron

Monday, May 22, 2017

WSJ:  Law Firms Finally Say It’s OK to See a Therapist

Wall Street Journal, Law Firms Finally Say It’s OK to See a Therapist:

Big firms have long been reticent to openly address addiction and other mental-health problems, despite research showing lawyers face higher rates of substance abuse, depression and suicide than the wider population. Law-firm leaders say the need to keep up appearances in a competitive industry has contributed to the resistance.

That attitude, however, is slowly changing.

Some U.S. law firms are tackling mental-health issues head-on. They’re offering on-site psychologists, training staff to spot problems and incorporating mental-health support alongside other wellness initiatives. ...

A study of mental-health issues among U.S. lawyers released last year ... found 20.6% of those surveyed were heavy drinkers and 28% experienced symptoms of depression. That compares with 8% or less of the general population, according to other studies. The results of a survey of members of the American College of Surgeons published in 2012, by comparison, found 15.4% abused or were dependent on alcohol.

The research, published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, found lawyers are less likely to seek help than others, out of confidentiality concerns and a fear of telling others they have a problem. ...

The taboo around mental health starts early; many state licensing boards ask detailed questions about an applicant’s history of mental illness and treatment, though without disclosing how the information will be used.

The uncertainty causes some law students to avoid seeing a doctor when feeling depressed to avoid getting tagged with a diagnosis, said Starling Marshall, a New York lawyer who is president of the Dave Nee Foundation, a nonprofit that raises mental-health awareness at law schools. The group, named for a Fordham Law School graduate who committed suicide in 2005 while studying for the bar exam, is working to eliminate such questions from state character and fitness exams. ...

The adversarial nature of law practice, where one side typically triumphs at the expense of another, and the emotional toll of taking on clients’ personal issues, can create chronic stress that contributes to bigger problems, Mr. Krill and others said. The profession also tends to draw high-achieving individuals who avoid showing any signs of weakness. ...

Attorney suicides make headlines every year, renewing concerns over how to combat depression. The U.S. legal industry had the 11th highest suicide rate in 2012 among occupations at 18.8 per 100,000, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared with 16.1 per 100,000 nationwide. Occupations with higher rates include farming, architecture and engineering, and construction.

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