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Mental Health Statistics and Seeking Help

Until recently, there was not a great deal of information relating to depression and psychological distress as it specifically affected lawyers. While the rates and affects of mental health issues in the general community have been comprehensively studied, the first reported study into depression in the Australian legal community was published in 2009.

The study, titled 'Courting the Blues: attitudes towards depression in Australian law students and legal practitioners' was conducted by the Brain & Mind Research Institute of the University of Sydney and looked at depression and psychological distress in law students, solicitors and barristers.

Some of the general trends that emerged from the report include:

  • A high level of psychological distress and risk of depression in law students and practising lawyers, when compared with Australian community norms and other tertiary student groups
  • A general reluctance to seek help for mental health issues from mental health professionals
  • Both students and practitioners showed a high likelihood of seeking help from non-professional sources (family, friends, alternative health professionals etc).

What are the key statistics?

  1. Levels of distress
    • 21.9% of law students reported high levels of distress (compared to 10.2% in the general population) and 13.3% reported levels of very high distress (compared to 3.1% in the general population)
    • 22.3% of solicitors reported high levels of distress (compared to 9.2% in the general population) and 8.7% reported levels of very high distress (compared to 3.8% in the general population)
    • 12.5% of barristers reported high levels of distress (compared to 9.2% in the general population) and 4.2% reported levels of very high distress (compared to 3.8% in the general population)
  2. Experiences of depression
    • 46.9% of law students, 55.7% of solicitors and 52.5% of barristers reported that they had experienced depression
    • 67.9% of law students, 70.6% of solicitors and 56.0% of barristers reported that someone close to them had experienced depression
    • 14.9% of law students, 26.3% of solicitors and 8.5% of barristers reported that both them and someone close to them had experienced depression
    For those who had reported having had experienced depression, the highest stress for solicitors and barristers was work (81.8% and 78.1% respectively) and for law students was study (80.6%)
  3. Typical behaviours or symptoms exhibited by people with depression, as identified by participants in the survey
    • Withdrawal from close family and friends
    • Unable to concentrate or have difficulty thinking
    • Becoming dependent on alcohol, drugs or sedatives
    • Have relationship or family problems
    • Stop doing things they enjoy
    • Have suicidal thoughts or behaviours
    • Stop going out
    • Not getting things done at school/work
    • Relationship or family breakdown
    • Lack of self-care
    • Develop new physical health problems
  4. The good news
    • Mild depressions may lift within a year if left untreated but this is not recommended* 
    • 50% of people will recover and remain well
    • Recurrence is more likely if the first episode is not properly treated**
  5. Seeking help
    • Many people reported a preference to seek help for mental illness or emotional problems from non-professional sources or from 'alternatively or complementary practitioners'
    • A good starting point is your General Practitioner so start developing a relationship with this person. Developing a rapport with your GP is based on trust and it is particularly important as you move through life generally. This allows you to develop a robust medical history for both physical and mental health
    • beyondblue provides a register of GPs (with an interest in mental illness) and other allied health professionals by area

A further recent study conducted in May 2011 by Beacon Research and Consulting Group in conjunction with beyondblue released some interesting findings:

  • Lawyers were less likely to have stigmatising views about depression compared to the 2007 results and were the profession most likely to have undergone training in dealing with mental illness
  • However barriers still exist in relation to engaging in proactive behaviour and assisting a person in the workplace who may be experiencing depression
  • Compared to other professions, lawyers felt their organisations were less likely to actively help an individual seek treatment
  • Lawyers reported the highest levels of mental health training (22.0%) and were the professional group most likely to have completed the beyondblue National Workplace Program training
  • Analysis of responses to identical questions in 2007 and 2011 revealed that in 2011, lawyers were significantly less likely to agree with stigmatising views regarding depression
  • In 2011, lawyers were also more likely (73.3%) to agree that having a stressful job increases the likelihood of depression, compared to responses from lawyers in 2007 (63.1%)

     

*Posternak MA, Miller I. (2001) Untreated short-term course of major depression: A meta-analysis of outcomes from studies using wait-list control groups. Journal of Affective Disorders. 66, 139–46.
**Eaton WW, Shao H, Nestadt G.(2008) Population-based study of first onset and chronicity in major depressive disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry. 65(5):513–20

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