Australian lawyers are more likely to suffer depression than people in any other profession, research from Sydney University has revealed.
The study found that depression can affect a third of solicitors and a fifth of barristers; 15% of lawyers experience two and a half times more moderate or severe depression than the general population, and patent attorneys are the most likely to suffer from depression.
If the above is true, then how does a law firm collectively manage it? Blake Dawson executive director of people development Carey Hawker said that the firm has taken a preventative approach, rather than dealing with just individual issues that arise.
"Our emphasis is on teamwork and culture, rather than just individual achievement. For example, we organise coaching and mentoring in interpersonal communication, time management, stress-busting and provide access to gym membership and meditation classes," she said.
To be a very good lawyer one must draw on a set of skills and behaviours like prudence, while giving attention to detail and finding for loopholes – in other words examining problems, rather than focusing on the solution.
However, this may be the root of the problem. "If you are a very good lawyer in a demanding position and clients are very specialised in what they require, it doesn't take much for that prudence to tip overboard and that's when one adopts a glass is half-empty approach; it's not just affecting one's working life but also life outside of work," said Hawker.
One of the most important steps is to feel comfortable about asking for assistance. Blakes has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which enables staff to approach specialists who can help staff manage depression.
"I think other large law firms are focused on increasing the well-being of their staff and address depression. With the financial turmoil there is a lot of work for lawyers, but it is also important to learn how to build resilience and management to cope with depression," she said.
Blakes has operated its EAP program for 10 years and the firm has committed to a three year study with the Sydney University's Faculty of Psychology.
- Australian lawyers are more likely to suffer depression than any other group of professionals
- Depression affects 1/3 of solicitors and 1/5 of barristers
15% experience moderate or severe depressive symptoms, at rate 21/2 time that of the general population
- Lawyers are more prone to drinking and taking the drugs to ease the pain
- More than 5% admitted using non-prescription drugs and alcohol
- Patent attorneys are most likely to suffer from depression
Source: Beyond Blue, Brain and Mind Institute (Sydney University)
Comment: What does your firm think about depression and how is it trying to address it?