Stressed-out lawyers seek help as charity warns of unreported drug problems

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By Legal Futures

7 January 2011

Stress: disciplinary issues or financial problems were the main cause

Three-quarters of lawyers who sought help with health problems last year complained of stress, support charity LawCare has reported, while warning that drug abuse in the profession is worse than its statistics indicate.

LawCare opened 517 new case files in 2010, down from a record 549 in 2009, splitting 60/40 between women and men.

There was a drop from 26% in 2009 to 18% of calls related to the economic downturn, such as emotional distress caused by redundancy, business failure or financial issues.

The proportion of stress cases stayed constant from 2009. The most commonly cited reasons for stress were disciplinary proceedings against the caller or someone close to them (20%), financial problems (20%), bullying (17%), redundancy (16%), ethical issues (13%), relationship problems (generally non work related) (11%) and bereavement (3%).

Some 12% of calls were from lawyers who were identified as suffering from clinical depression, while 7% reported difficulties with addiction to alcohol (of whom 59% were men). LawCare said: “One reason why we do not receive more addiction calls may be because it is particularly hard for lawyers, who pride themselves on their ability to cope and solve other people’s problems, to ask for help for themselves, especially in relation to an addiction.”

There were just three cases (0.6%) relating to illegal drugs. The charity said: “Although we know that a large number of lawyers are using drugs, the illegality means that those who acknowledge it as a problem are reluctant to admit it to anyone, even anonymously, on a free and confidential helpline. Also a lot of users are still young so that the long-term results of their usage have not yet manifested themselves.”

Other problems included bipolar disorder, gambling addiction and OCD.

LawCare, which started in 1997, handled over 1,000 additional calls relating to carrying matters forward and to ongoing cases from earlier years. It said many of the calls in 2010 were more lengthy and complex than had historically been the case. They also required more time consuming follow-up.

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