Stress pushing lawyers towards clinical depression and other mental illnesses, says survey

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By Legal Futures

24 August 2012

Stress: most lawyers say it is worse than five years ago

A fifth of lawyers who have so far responded to a survey on stress in the profession are currently suffering from clinical depression or another mental illness, it has emerged.

The initial findings from the ongoing survey by LawCare – the charity which helps lawyers with problems such as stress, depression and alcohol misuse – indicate that more lawyers have suffered an eating disorder (6%) than alcohol abuse (4.5%). Only 29% had never suffered from any emotional or addiction related impairment.

Though 800 lawyers have so far taken part, the findings cannot be read across the profession as the survey has been conducted by encouraging lawyers to take it online, rather than via a controlled sample.

Two-third said they have suffered from stress in the past – with 55% saying they are currently under extreme stress – while 32% have suffered from clinical depression at some point. Most respondents said they were more stressed in their work now than five years ago, and 16% had taken time off work due to stress in the last year. Nearly half suffered symptoms of stress, such as headaches, at least once a week.

The most common reasons given for stress were being overloaded with work (60%), feeling isolated and/or unsupported (52%), poor management including lack of appreciation (51%) and long hours (39%).

Despite this, 63% of respondents said that they would be concerned about reporting their stress to their employer, generally because it would be viewed as a sign of weakness or inability to do the work, the employer wouldn’t care anyway, and it might negatively affect their future employment prospects.

Although 70% of respondents said their workplace was a stressful environment, and 44% considered they had insufficient support there, the majority reported a happy home life and good support from family and friends.

Two in every five respondents admitted to drinking to excess at least once a week, with 3% drinking more than the recommended number of units every day.  A tenth take prescription drugs to alleviate stress, or its symptoms, every day, but only 3% said they took illegal drugs, and only then “occasionally”.

LawCare administrator Anna Buttimore said: “While there were a few surprises, the initial results of our survey show what we at LawCare have long suspected – that stress is the norm within the legal profession, and that it is getting worse, not better.

“It is telling, however, just how much of it seems to be attributed the inflexible, unsupportive and uncaring attitude of management and employers. Although we recognise that these are difficult times, good managers and partners recognise that staff wellbeing affects their bottom line and take seriously their duty of care.”

The survey remains online. Click here to take it (survey should take no more than 10 minutes).


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