A study conducted in 2012 by John Hopkins University in the US has discerned, among more than 100 occupations studied, that lawyers were three times more likely to suffer from depression than any other profession. I’ve also read from local sources, that one in three lawyers suffer from depression. These are astounding figures. Disconcerting.
Recently, High Court Justice Virginia Bell addressed the audience as the keynote speaker at this year’s Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation Annual Lecture. The foundation, named in honour of 26-year-old Tristan who took his own life, has developed national guidelines for law firms that aim to improve lawyers’ mental health. She touched on job satisfaction, engaging in meaningful pro bono work to glean a higher level of satisfaction from the job and drew upon her own experiences, noting her ability to dedicate long hours to her work, while not allowing her whole life to become overrun by it.
On top of all that, I read of the enduring stigma attached to mental illness and how difficult it can be for someone to speak out and ask for support.
Our firm currently employs 15 solicitors. I won’t even apply the figures to our little segment of the profession. We are a defence firm. We handle criminal matters that range from minor to very serious, and some of these can be emotionally difficult. We deal with people about to lose everything. We shoulder their woes. We hear stories that break our hearts and some that lift our spirits. We work hard and sincerely strive to get the best possible outcome, to see that real justice is served; the principle of our firm. I, along with the other partners, take this rather seriously and we hope to create a working environment that equips our team to deal with the pressures that this job can place on people. And hopefully do our bit to, over time, see a profound dip in some of those statistics.
We seek to have counsellors engaged and available to all staff, so that they may unreservedly and promptly unburden themselves of the mental strain associated with the profession. Hopefully, keeping the dialogue open will also help us help each other.
If you are a legal professional in Victoria and are in need of any assistance, the LIV provide free counselling to LIV members. Visit http://www.viclawyershealth.com.au/ or call their 24-hour line on 1300 664 744. There are also EAP service providers available to assist such as Carfi, who can assist in occupational rehabilitation services and organisational psychology or see http://www.eapaa.org.au/ for a list of EAP providers Australia-wide.