A national study examining depression in the legal profession is being run with support from the New South Wales Bar Association.
The researchers — from the Jepson Memorial Fund and the Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI) — have distributed the survey among law students and practitioners. The survey was divided into three groups: law students, practicing solicitors and barristers.
Dr Norm Kelk, BMRI, said the study’s primary aim is to ascertain the level of depression literacy among the survey group. He said the concept was often misinterpreted by the wider community.
“Depression literacy, it’s a slightly technical term, and basically it has three components. One is knowledge about depression and also knowledge about the kind of disability that depression brings,” he said.
“The second part of it is knowledge of whether or not you can successfully treat depression and what sorts of things might help in treating depression. The third aspect of depression literacy is about whether or not you would actually seek help for it if you had it.”
The questionnaire is anonymous, and follows the same format as one distributed to study the mental health awareness of members of the medical profession. It was adapted for the study by changing the demographic material to ask about legal education and experience rather than medical training and experience.
Solicitors have been sampled through newsletters sent out to members of the various law societies, and Bar members have been primarily sampled through their online newsletter, In Brief. Kelk admitted that the issue of sampling a broad enough segment of the profession is an ongoing challenge for researchers. For example, due to concerns about the uptake of the online survey by Barristers, paper surveys were also distributed to members.
“The issue about sampling is a difficult one, and I don’t think there’s any easy answer to this at this point,” Kelk said, “I suspect that after we’ve collated these results, if we do feel there are some obvious subtleties about the way the results have come out, then we may need to actually do another study based on a more rigorous sampling technique,” he said.
Kelk and his team are already busy collecting data from lawyers across the nation. “In our original proposal we said that we’d like to get 500 practicing lawyers in the sample and 700 law students. We will get close to that in the next couple of weeks.”
The team of BMRI researchers anticipate that they will be able to present data from the law student segment of the survey at the annual Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation-sponsored lecture on the 18 September.
“We’re particularly keen to present the law student data ... but we will also try to present some of the practising lawyers data,” Kelk said.