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Depressed Lawyers: Suicide and Substance Abuse and More

Depression and mental health issues in the law – both in the professional lawyer and the law student – are well know.  AbovetheLaw’s Joe Patrice looks at such issues as substance abuse, depression and suicide.  Not pretty subjects, but they need addressing.

The pervasive mental health issues plaguing the legal profession are well-established. As an occupation, lawyers are more prone to clinical depression and substance abuse problems. At its very worst, lawyers can turn to suicide at an alarmingly high rate.

Last month, we linked to a Yale Daily News article about a study revealing “widespread” mental health troubles. But now that we’ve sat down with the full 102-page report, it’s clear that the original article didn’t do justice to the study’s troubling findings. In a nutshell, a large segment of law students face mental health issues and most students don’t seek help, not that the law schools — and the universities that support them — offer much assistance anyway.

My first instinct with a report like this is to question the sample and decry self-selection bias. And that’s the most frightening aspect of this survey — all the sample problems in the world wouldn’t make these numbers less scary:

A majority of survey respondents reported experiencing mental health challenges at Yale Law School. Seventy percent of all respondents—206 students in a 296-student sample—reported having struggled with mental health during law school. Even assuming that zero non-respondents faced mental health challenges (MHCs), that would mean that 32 percent, or nearly one-third, of YLS students felt that they had faced mental health challenges while in law school.

Unless you’re talking about a batting average, 32 percent isn’t a good number. Why is law school producing these numbers? The report posits that law school engenders a culture of extreme stress and many students buy in. Add to that a population of students that probably lean toward anxiety even in less pressure-filled environments and you have a recipe for disaster:

Students described a culture where being stressed is seen as a “badge of honor,” where “competition is palpable,” and where students, faculty, and administration all place an inordinate amount of emphasis on “winning the rat race.” On the one hand, respondents to the survey reported a persistent fear of being perceived as “stupid,” and on the other hand a belief that peers who admitted to feeling overwhelmed or inadequate were unable to handle the pressures of law school. Even some of those students who did not feel that they had experienced mental health challenges at law school described “highly disruptive and unhealthy” or “significant” levels of stress and even mild depression. Several noted that while they themselves had not experienced what they would describe as mental health challenges, their peers’ experiences had colored their own and cast “a cloud over the community.” Together, the narrative responses and our dataset establish that this cultural environment causes or contributes to widespread mental health challenges at YLS.

Read more at AbovetheLaw

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