Private practice lawyers suffer the lowest levels of psychological and psychosomatic health and wellbeing when compared to other professionals, according to new research released by a doctorate student at the University of Queensland.
They also have the highest levels of alcohol and nicotine use and abuse.
The research confirms what has been anecdotal evidence for a long time: lawyers have stressful jobs.
But what may be surprising is that the research found that lawyers are more likely than other professionals to be exposed to poor interpersonal and psychosocial behaviour, such as: interpersonal deviance, verbal abuse, work obstruction, emotional neglect, bullying via destabilisation, overwork and isolation, even sexual harassment.
“This is not surprising given the numerous studies that indicate higher than average levels of mental health issues in the legal profession,” SA Law Society president David Caruso told Australasian Lawyer.
“The research indicates that several factors contribute to lawyers experiencing psychological issues, such as high workloads, a stressful work environment, demanding clients and having to regularly deal with grim subject matter.”
Caruso believes that lawyers at smaller firms are at greater risk.
“While larger firms have the resources to establish support programs, smaller firms sometimes do not have the same luxury and practitioners are more at risk of suffering in silence,” he said.
Caruso said that organisations such as the Law Society are integral in triggering systemic change.
“We have an established and hard-working Wellbeing and Resilience Committee which organises several programs designed to foster health and wellbeing.
“Any practitioners who are experiencing mental health issues and don’t know where to turn should contact their law society, or mental health organisations such as Beyond Blue or the Black Dog Institute.
“It is in the interest of every professional and every worker that their colleagues enjoy good health and support.”
Caruso believes a stigma still exists in the profession around mental health.
“Whilst attitudes towards mental health have changed significantly, a stigma still exists around depression and related illnesses.
“Some employees may feel disinclined to reach out because they are worried mental illness will be viewed as a sign of weakness.”
The report calls for a commitment from HR professionals by monitoring employee attitudes, wellbeing and all five job performance components including organisation citizenship behaviour, deviant behaviour, joining and staying with the organisation, and maintaining work attendance – rather than focussing on task performance. This, the report said, is likely to assist in identifying trends and changes that may indicate exposure to work-related psychosocial risks.