The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Feeling the Pressure? You're not alone.

August 28 2012 28 August 2012

After I was accepted to law school, one of my newspaper colleagues made a point of sending me stories about lawyers in crisis. The common thread was that lawyers suffer high rates of depression and addiction and as a professional group are vulnerable to suicide. It was a reminder — and perhaps a warning — that the profession has a dark side.

It turns out these were not apocryphal tales. It was true 20 years ago and it’s true today: lawyers and law students face a disproportionately higher risk of depression than the general population. In fact, one in three will experience a major mood disorder or problem with addiction at school or work during their careers. These are intelligent, capable, high-achieving individuals. And yet they struggle, often in silence, unwilling to reveal the depth of their pain. Why?

Environment and personality both play a role, according to researchers. Law school is competitive and “notorious for deflating the self-image and sense of competence of its students,” says Dr. Lawrence Krieger of Florida State University College of Law. Other studies have revealed that law attracts individuals with certain personality traits. Dr. Larry Richard, a U.S. psychologist and former trial lawyer, found that when tested for resilience, 90 per cent of lawyers consistently scored in the bottom half of the general population, making the majority more sensitive to criticism, setbacks and rejections and quicker to become defensive. Many find it hard to strike a work-life balance and they deal with stress in unhealthy ways.

Fortunately, the profession has recognized this problem and is ready to help. The CBA’s Legal Profession Assistance Conference (LPAC) helps lawyers, judges, law students and their families with personal, emotional, health and lifestyle issues. Confidential help and professional referrals are available through LPAC’s 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-667-5722. LPAC also develops programs and liaises with law assistance program across the country.

Don’t be afraid to reach out. In Ontario alone, the Ontario Lawyers’ Assistance program is working with about 1,200 individuals. About 42 per cent of cases involve mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and debilitating stress, according to the 2010 annual report.

There is no need to suffer in silence and no shame in asking for help. In fact, making the decision to seek help can be the most difficult part of the process. But once you do, you’ll be on a path to a much brighter future.

All you have to do is ask. 

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