find the latest legal job
Legal Advisor
Category: Other | Location: All Darwin NT
· Exciting and challenging environment · 3 year fixed contract - Position # LO6
View details
Property Lawyer | In-house | Global UK Company | 3-8PQE | Melbourne
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Melbourne VIC 3004
· Be part of a large in-house team · Property experience an advantage
View details
In-house Property Lawyer - 3-6year PQE | Dynamic High Impact Role
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Melbourne VIC 3004
· Highly regarded internal legal team · Ideal first in-house role
View details
Category: Other | Location: Perth CBD, Inner & Western Suburbs Perth WA
· Strategic Leadership Role · Strong Commercial Skills & Knowledge
View details
Category: Other | Location: Perth CBD, Inner & Western Suburbs Perth WA
· Statutory Appointment · Legal Profession Complaints Committee
View details
Are eating disorders being forgotten in the fight for wellbeing?

Are eating disorders being forgotten in the fight for wellbeing?

Jerome Doraisamy

While significant strides continue to be made in addressing anxiety and depression by the Australian legal profession, and support mechanisms for students and practitioners alike expand, it is possible another significant mental ailment is getting lost in the shuffle: eating disorders, writes Jerome Doraisamy.

A recent study of American law students, ‘Suffering in Silence’, published in the US-based Journal of Legal Education, produced startling results: 27 per cent of law students suffer from eating disorders, with a diagnosis rate of only three per cent. In breaking down the respondents, 18 per cent of males and 34 per cent of females screened positive for such disorders.

Dr Greg de Moore, associate professor of psychiatry at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital and Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation board member, said that while the US figures appear too high – as the research conducted was a screening test, not a diagnostic measure – there is little doubt that lawyers and law students are more susceptible to eating disorders than the nine per cent of Australians currently suffering.

Research examining the prevalence and causes of eating disorders within the Australian legal profession does not yet exist. But if our similarities to the US in terms of alcohol consumption and self-medication as indicators of depression are anything to go by, one could reasonably deduce that the prevalence of eating disorders in our lawyers and law students is higher than it should be.

Given how those in law are – statistically speaking – more prone to perfectionism, competitiveness and high achievement, de Moore said the secrecy and sense of shame central to suffering from eating disorders are factors in concealing the problem from colleagues, friends and family.

“When people have a mental illness of any kind, they instinctively put their heads down, out of concern for what their bosses or colleagues will think of them,” he noted.

“That drives eating disorders underground as people feel vulnerable but work in an environment where they can’t appear to be vulnerable.”

Such stigma – both self-inflicted and societal – is, of course, still a cause for concern in the professional context when it comes to mental health issues across the board. And it is often something apparently trivial, such as an off-the-cuff comment from a colleague or classmate about someone's weight that can trigger a person to restrict their diet to an extreme degree.

Lawyers and law students are often high functioning individuals, he commented, meaning they could be suffering with no apparent signs of distress, especially in cases of bulimia nervosa.

“They’re smart, and they will likely know how and when to vomit secretly though shamefully,” he advised.

“There would also be gender-specific factors – historically and anecdotally, we know that the way one looks and feels perceived by colleagues, is profound with sense of body dissatisfaction, especially among young women.”

Sophia Hatzis, a second year law student from Sydney and founder of The Beauty Breakdown blog, suffered from anorexia nervosa, anxiety and depression as a teenager. She, too, is confident that Australian law students and lawyers may be suffering in silence about eating disorders.

“Like any mental illness, it’s often something people hide to avoid questions and questionable looks from others,” she explained.

“Law students and lawyers tend to be people who just want to ‘get on with it’.”

Reflecting on her personal experience, she noted eating disorders completely overwhelm the life and mind of the sufferer, who never feels completely present in their surroundings.

“The sufferer may find it impossible to concentrate as their brain function is compromised, ultimately resulting in diminished quality and quantity of work,” she said.

“Eating disorders are all-consuming – [they’re illnesses] that may allow you to function and survive, but never thrive.”

There is no doubt that eating disorders deserve greater attention from the legal profession. And while the rates of prevalence and contributing factors for Australian lawyers and law students are not yet apparent, such disorders must be considered part and parcel of any holistic discussion about legal wellness, and how best we can look after ourselves and those around us.

Jerome Doraisamy is a speaker, consultant and author of The Wellness Doctrines.

If you, or someone you know, is suffering from or showing signs of an eating disorder, treatment can be sought from The Butterfly Foundation, the National Eating Disorders Collaboration and under the federal government’s mental health care plans.


Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
May 26 2017
Coroner’s Lindt Café siege findings to have consequences for criminal lawyers
One of the most extensive coronial inquests in NSW has now concluded, with 45 recommendations concer...
May 26 2017
Lawyers can be humans too, judge says
Judge Felicity Hampel of the Victorian County Court has spoken about the need for lawyers to engage...
May 26 2017
Sydney to host international dispute resolution conference
A discussion focusing on the future of dispute resolution will come to Sydney on Monday, 29 May, as ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years...
Angela Lynch
May 9 2017
Women’s legal service appoints chief executive
Women’s Legal Service Queensland has appointed an experienced family lawyer as its new CEO. ...
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...