21 Mar 2016

Research: Lawyers have worst mental health among professionals

New research by a doctorate student at the University of Queensland indicates that private practice lawyers experience the lowest levels of psychological and psychosomatic health and wellbeing among all professionals.

Piotr Marcinski

They also have the highest levels of alcohol and nicotine use and abuse.

Worryingly, the research found that lawyers are also more likely than other professionals to be exposed to poor interpersonal and psychosocial behaviour. This includes interpersonal deviance, verbal abuse, work obstruction, emotional neglect, bullying via destabilisation, overwork, isolation and sexual harassment.

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.’

Mr Caruso believes that lawyers at smaller firms could be at greater risk, as they may not have access to support programs present in larger firms with greater resources. He also believes that although attitudes towards mental health have changed, a stigma still exists around depression and related illnesses. This could make some wary to reach out, due to a fear that mental illness will be viewed as ‘a sign of weakness.’

But he added that organisations such as the Law Society, which has an established Wellbeing and Resilience Committee offering programs designed to offer support, are integral to creating systemic change. Mr Caruso advised any practitioner experiencing mental health issues and at a loss as to where to turn to contact their law society, or mental health organisations such as Beyond Blue or the Black Dog Institute.

The report calls for HR professionals to monitor employee attitudes, wellbeing and job performance components including organisation citizenship behaviour, deviant behaviour, joining and staying with the organisation, and maintaining work attendance – rather than focusing on task performance. According to the report, this is likely to help identify changes and trends and that could indicate exposure to work-related psychosocial risks. Source: Australasian Lawyer