Depressed lawyers turn to alcohol and drugs

02 March 2012 By Lawyers Weekly

A SURVEY of the professions has found that lawyers are the most likely to suffer depression and use drugs and alcohol to manage depressive symptoms.The survey, carried out by Beaton Consulting…

A SURVEY of the professions has found that lawyers are the most likely to suffer depression and use drugs and alcohol to manage depressive symptoms.

The survey, carried out by Beaton Consulting in conjunction with depression initiative beyondblue, interviewed 7500 professionals including accountants, engineers and architects and asked a series of questions from a standardised mental health survey.

Dr Nicole Highet, deputy CEO of beyondblue said the results were a wake-up call for law firms.


“The data here shows that the rates are significant. At least one in 10 people right now in professional firms are going to have clinical depression and the rates were higher in lawyers — around 15 percent. So that’s 15 percent who had depression just at the point when they were completing the survey. Those results would be even higher higher if the questions were asked over a twelve month period or if we asked people if they’d ever experienced it,” she said.

Respondents to the survey were also asked whether they used drugs and alcohol to manage sadness and depression and the higher incidence amongst lawyers — 5 per cent knowingly self-medicated using and drugs and alcohol - correlates with the higher incidence of depression.

South Pacific Private, a Sydney based rehabilitation centre that assists people with depression and alcohol and drug addiction, issued a statement following the release of the survey saying lawyers developed coping mechanisms for dealing with pressure but often didn’t recognise their own needs and were reluctant to seek help.

“With greater awareness of the problems, we hope it will remove the stigma of depression among the legal fraternity, and allow individuals to recognise the symptoms and seek help sooner, rather than later,” said South Pacific Private spokesperson, psychotherapist Jackie Furey.

“We treat many lawyers and people in the professional services industries at South Pacific Private and this research confirms our experience: that this particular group of people is under intense pressure, and their mental health is often compromised as a result,” Furey said.

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Drug and alcohol use is just one of the symptoms of depression and people need to look out for other tell-tale signs as well said Highet.

“People use drugs and alcohol for a whole range of reasons so it’s also important to about looking at other behaviours. For example a change over two weeks or more such as a period of sadness or loss of interest in things you might have got pleasure out of previously. And a range of symptoms like sleeping problems, lost productivity, motivation, negative thinking or feelings, feeling helpless or worthless. If someone experiences feeling down or four or more of those symptoms it’s likely they are experiencing some kind of depression and the more symptoms they have the more severe the depression,” Highet said.

Previous studies have shown that an employee with untreated depression is estimated to cost their organisation an average of $9,660 per annum due to lost productivity and absenteeism, so it makes good financial sense for law firms to address the issue.

Highet said law firms need to train their staff in how to identify depression and deal with it in a proactive manner.

“If people are concerned about someone in the workplace, don’t just self-diagnose. If someone isn’t coming to lunch who used to or is staying away, it’s important to ask them. Law firms need to educated staff about what it is and how to respond.”

Recognizing the difference between stress and depression was also important.

“There are differences between stress and depression. Stress is a normal part of life but depression doesn’t go away whereas stress goes when the deadline passes,” Highet said.

Richard Gulley, who runs the Lawyers Assistance Program in New South Wales, said the survey results came as no surprise but he was most concerned about sole practitioners, believing depression was more widespread amongst them than lawyers in large firms.

“Those sorts of statistics don’t surprise me when I have regard to the number of people who contact me with depression but a large number of practitioners suffering from depression would be sole practitioners. That’s the thing that concerns me - when someone is on their own. That’s where things hit people hard,” he said.

Depressed lawyers turn to alcohol and drugs
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