Law.com, Constantly On Call, Lawyers Risk Exhaustion:
Let’s face it. Becoming a lawyer, much less succeeding in the practice of law, is an enormous task.
It’s not the only profession that requires rigorous academic study followed by extreme dedication in order to excel. And it’s not the only career where failure can mean disaster for those counting on a practitioner’s expertise.
But the challenges and demands specific to being a lawyer can lead individuals down a path toward mental health struggles. A 2016 study by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association found that 28% of lawyers have depression at some level, and 19% have symptoms of anxiety.
“Does becoming a lawyer cause depression? I’m often asked that. And I say no, it does not. But is it a significant risk factor for depression? Yes. It is,” said Dan Lukasik, founder of LawyersWithDepression.com, and director of the Workplace Well-Being for the Mental Health Association in Buffalo, New York.
Lawyers in each corner of the profession—prosecutors and public defenders, in-house counsel, government lawyers, solo practitioners, and lawyers at firms large, medium and small—all face some of the same universal pressures.
“You have this constellation of issues that create tremendous stress and then really put lawyers at the risk of being vulnerable to mental health or substance abuse issues,” said Eileen Travis, director of the New York City Bar Association’s Lawyer Assistance Program.
Industry watchers and psychologists pointed to several deeply ingrained features of the legal profession: lawyers must always be ready to do their job at the drop of a hat; they must vigorously represent their client or cause at all costs, but may not do the same for themselves; forsaking one’s own well-being in favor of embodying a lawyer’s mindset at all times is a badge of honor.
Taken to the extreme, these realities have created a population of tired and lonely lawyers.
“It’s kind of like an endurance contest or something. This big reservoir of resentment … fills up with rage,” said William Meyerhofer, a psychotherapist and former Sullivan & Cromwell lawyer. “It leaks out in all these behaviors where you scream at your girlfriend, or go home and get stoned every night, or spend the whole night playing video games.”
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