Lawyer Wellness

Mental health initiatives aren’t curbing lawyer stress and anxiety, new study shows

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Despite increasing focus on mental health and well-being in the legal profession, lawyers are reportedly dealing with more stress, anxiety and depression, according to the 2023 ALM and Compass Mental Health Survey of the Legal Profession.

About 71% of the nearly 3,000 lawyers surveyed this year said they had anxiety, which represents a 5% increase from 2022, according to the American Lawyer.

About 38% said they dealt with depression, an increase of 35% from last year. Additionally, the number of lawyers who struggled with another mental health issue more than doubled, up to about 31% this year from nearly 15% last year.

When asked about specific indicators of mental health challenges, more than 50% of lawyers said they “felt a sense of failure or self-doubt, lost emotion, felt increasingly cynical and negative, and had decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment,” according to the American Lawyer. More than 60% said they felt overwhelmed, irritable and exhausted or struggled to concentrate.

More than 76% of lawyers blamed their work environment for these problems. Specifically, about 68% cited billable hour pressures, about 67% cited the inability to disconnect, and about 54% cited lack of sleep, the study shows. About 49% of lawyers also reported feeling that mental health problems and substance abuse are at a crisis level in the legal profession, up from about 44% in 2022.

When asked whether they would feel comfortable talking with on-site wellness professionals, about 51% of lawyers said yes. The study shows that only about 33% said they thought that they could take a leave of absence to address their mental health or substance use issues.

The American Lawyer noted other resources, including mindfulness sessions, education on exercise and nutrition and access to therapy apps, have become increasingly available in many law firms in recent years.

“In a profession that fosters perfectionism, it can be difficult to feel safe and comfortable enough to access mental health-related services, even if they’re put in front of us,” Laura Mahr, a lawyer, mental health coach and founder of Conscious Legal Minds, told the American Lawyer. “There is a threat, whether real or imagined, that we might not get promoted, or we might lose our job or not get a bonus if we aren’t 100% on our game 100% of the time.”

As part of her work with firms around mental health challenges, Mahr said she teaches lawyers how to better regulate their nervous systems.

“The tools I teach are based in neurobiology and neuroscience and are designed to regulate the nervous system, switching you from a dysregulated nervous state to a regulated nervous state,” she told the American Lawyer. “When your nervous system is regulated, your cognitive functioning is optimized, and that’s imperative in the legal profession.”

Other mental health professionals and consultants encouraged allowing attorneys to set boundaries around their availability outside work hours and hiring psychologists or other practitioners to work on staff at firms.

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