Lawyers, law students and depression
Local research findings confirm international research findings to the effect that law students and lawyers exhibit higher levels of psychological distress and depression than other people in the community of the same age and sex (see Courting the Blues - below). This sorry fact has a direct relevance to the work of the Commission because of the likelihood that lawyers who are psychologically distressed will one way or another reveal their distress in conduct that falls short of the standard of competence and diligence and the ethical standards that members of the public and their professional peers are entitled to expect of them.
We are unaware of any research which bears out an assumption to this effect but it seems likely to be true. Certainly psychological distress is the elephant in the room in a large proportion of the matters we deal with at the Commission. It’s explicitly a factor in many of the matters that find their way to the disciplinary bodies. Our best guess is that it features in 1 in 3 of all the matters we deal with and the professional indemnity insurers tell us they reckon it features in about 1 in 3 of all professional negligence matters also.
We headline the issue out of a concern not only for the welfare of lawyers who are struggling to cope and their families but also their clients and third parties who depend on their good judgment and clear thinking and whose interests can only too easily be compromised.
We make it a priority to use our regulatory powers to best advantage to give respondent practitioners appropriate professional and personal support should they need it at the same time as taking appropriate measures including disciplinary measures if needs be to protect their clients and the public.
For further information and resources see:
- Queensland Law Society: (Resilience and wellbeing) resources for the legal profession are available from the home page for the Queensland Law Society 'love law, live life' campaign.
- The Law Council of Australia:this is a useful site that describes as its purpose as follows: “The Law Council of Australia's mental health and wellbeing portal is a new initiative designed to provide a centralised source of information about mental health for the legal profession. It highlights the range of resources and assistance services currently available through the Law Council's constituent bodies and highlights a range of other initiatives being undertaken in this area.”
- Lawyers with depression: this site is run by a managing partner in Buffalo, New York, to help lawyers, law students and judges cope with and heal from depression.
- The Bar Association of Queensland (Barcare): gives access to a panel of psychologists, coaches and counsellors for its membership.
- The Queensland Law Society (LawCare): provides a confidential counselling and support service for its members and their families.
- Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation: a foundation set up in memory of a former University of NSW law student and young lawyer who suffered from severe clinical depression and took his own life on the 28th October 2004. The Foundation aims to decrease distress, disability and the causes of depression and anxiety in the legal profession.
- MoodGYM: an interactive web program designed to prevent and decrease depressive symptoms. It was designed for young people but is helpful for people of all ages. It consists of five modules - an interactive game, anxiety and depression assessments, relaxation audio, a workbook and feedback assessment. MoodGYM was designed and developed by staff at the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University, and is currently being trialled by the Brain and Mind Research Institute for use as an adjunct therapy in general practice. It is free and confidential.
- beyondblue: is a bipartisan initiative of the Australian, state and territory governments to raise community awareness about depression and reducing stigma associated with the illness.
- The Black Dog Institute: is a not for profit, educational, research and clinical service which offers specialist expertise in relation to depression and bipolar disorder.
- depressioNET: provides counselling, peer support and information services for people over 18 years of age which may be of assistance in preventing, managing or overcoming depression.
- headspace: the National Youth Mental Health Foundation – provides services to young people aged 12-25 who are dealing with mental health and alcohol and substance abuse issues.
- The Centre for Mental Health Research, the Australian National University: BluePages provides information on treatments for depression based on the latest scientific evidence. BluePages also offers screening tests for depression and anxiety, a depression search engine, and links to other helpful resources.
- RUOK?: an organisation committed to the prevention of suicide.
- Law Council of Australia conducted the National Attrition and Re-engagement Study (NARS) research to obtain quantitative data and confirm trends in progression, attrition and re-engagement rates of female lawyers. The research also examined the qualitative reasons behind these trends.
- Freehills and the College of Law outline their strategies to combat depression among lawyers and law students
- Courting the Blues: Attitudes towards depression in Australian law students and legal practitioners - Brain & Mind Research Institute Monograph 2009-1
- Courting the Blues - a summary - a brief summary of the Courting the Blues report
- The mental health of Australian lawyers: a challenge for the law students and the profession - slides from Tristan Jepson Memorial Lecture, Professor Ian Hickie, Executive Director, Brain and Mind Research Institute, 18 September 2008
- Depression in Australian Law Schools: A handbook for law students and law student societies - an excellent resource published by the Australian Law Students Association
- Lawyers Emotional Distress and Regulation - a speech by the Legal Services Commissioner at the Bar Association of Queensland Annual Conference, March 2009
- Depression and the Law - The Black Dog Institute
- Beyond Slips, Trips and Falls - the emerging importance of psychosocial risk management discusses psychosocial wellbeing in law firms and other organisations. Published in Proctor Vol 33 No 4 pages 22-25, author Rebecca Michalak.