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Mental Health in the Legal Profession

Updated: Feb 21, 2020

by: Haley Burridge

Within the last few years there has been more awareness about mental health and substance abuse issues that many lawyers and other legal professionals suffer from throughout their careers. Several organizations such as the American Bar Association and the Lawyers Assistance Program have urged individuals and employers within the legal community to educate and assist legal professionals that may be battling these issues.

How Many People Are Affected?

In February 2016, The Journal of Addiction Medicine published a study comprised of a sample of 12,825 licensed and employed attorneys. The most common mental health conditions reported were anxiety (61.1%), followed by depression (45.7%), social anxiety (16.1%), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (12.5%), panic disorder (8.0%), and bipolar disorder (2.4%). In addition,11.5% of the participants reported suicidal thoughts at some point during their career, 2.9% reported self-injurious behaviors, and 0.7% reported at least 1 prior suicide attempt.

The 2016-2017 Illinois Lawyers Assistance Program statistics report indicates that 46% of participants suffer from a major psychological issue. Of the 46%, 41% suffer from anxiety/stress disorders, 32% suffer from depression/mood disorders, 25% suffer from depression, and 2% of individuals suffer from suicide ideation. The report also states that 26% of participants suffer from substance use disorder. Of the 26% that suffer from substance use disorder, 89% of individuals use alcohol, 8% use stimulants, and 3% use opiates/opioids.

Awareness and Assistance

The Lawyers’ Assistance Program "LAP" is a not-for-profit organization that helps Illinois lawyers, judges, law students, and their families concerned about alcohol abuse, drug dependency, or stress related issues like anxiety, burnout, and depression. LAP offers individual and group therapy services, assessments, education, peer support, and intervention. LAP was founded in 1980 by a group of lawyers who saw the need for members of the profession to reach out to help colleagues impaired by alcohol abuse and addition. Since its founding, LAP has grown significantly and offers its services to individuals throughout the state of Illinois.

In September 2017, the American Bar Association “ABA” created The Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession. This group was created to study and make recommendations regarding the current state of attorney mental health and substance use issues with an emphasis on helping legal employers support health work environments. The Working Group launched a campaign to improve mental health well-being of individuals in the legal profession. The campaign asked for legal employers to pledge to recognize that substance use and mental health problems represent a significant challenge for the legal profession and acknowledge that more can and should be done to improve the health of lawyers. As of November 2019, there are 155 signatories.

Mental health and substance abuse issues continue to affect many individuals in the legal profession. Therefore, it is important to ensure that education and assistance regarding these issues is a top priority for legal employers and law schools.

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