Lawyers’ Mental Health: Increase Job Satisfaction
By Morgan Martinez
“Your mental health is everything—prioritize it. Make the time like your life depends on it, because it does.” Lawyer, author, and motivational speaker Mel Robbins couldn’t have provided better advice to her colleagues in the legal industry. After all, lawyers’ mental health affects every part of their lives, from career performance to personal relationships.
In this guide, we’ll explain why lawyers should prioritize mental health for greater job satisfaction and overall wellness. We’ll also share common causes of poor mental health and mental illness among lawyers, and how to build healthy habits that help prevent lawyer depression and promote well-being.
What is Mental Health?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health “includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.”
Mental health struggles are not the same as mental illnesses. For example, a lawyer may temporarily struggle to cope with a traumatic experience or the death of a loved one. Mental illness among lawyers, on the other hand, involves diagnosable conditions that can be ongoing, episodic, or occur only for a short period. Commonly known disorders include:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Eating disorders
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Why is Lawyers’ Mental Health Important?
Lawyers’ mental health significantly impacts work performance and retention. In fact, Harvard Business Review reports that 68% of Millennials and more than 80% of Gen Zers have voluntarily or involuntarily left a job for mental health reasons.
What Can Cause Mental Health Struggles for Attorneys?
Three factors play a significant role in mental health for lawyers.
1. Time Constraints and Deadlines
Many practice areas are deadline-driven. For example, your typical personal injury firm may juggle dozens of cases—all on different timelines and constant deadlines. Managing this time-sensitive workload can understandably lead to burnout, especially if the firm doesn’t have an adequate headcount or gets behind schedule.
2. High Expectations
Clients often have high expectations of their attorneys. They may expect a certain (and perhaps unrealistic) outcome for their case. Clients may also have misguided assumptions about service issues like fee amounts and communication frequency.
Similarly, associates can struggle to understand what senior associates and partners expect of them. This is particularly true in a remote work environment, where there’s less on-the-job training and fewer face-to-face interactions.
When faced with these high or ambiguous expectations from clients and colleagues, lawyers’ mental health can suffer. According to a presentation from law firm Gibson Dunn, only 28% of employees believed they were mentally healthy during the pandemic—compared to 62% of team members prior to the pandemic. Younger employees and members of underrepresented groups may be even more susceptible to workplace factors that negatively impact well-being, as reported in Harvard Business Review.
3. Significant Scrutiny
All attorneys have to abide by rules and regulations that govern lawyer-client relationships, trust accounting responsibilities, and everything in between. Lawyers in some practice areas deal with additional examination and dissection from opposing counsel and courts.
Therefore, lawyer depression and anxiety are common due to constant scrutiny, the threat of malpractice, and a potentially conflict-rich environment. In fact, according to a survey of more than 13,000 working attorneys, 28% of respondents struggled with depression, nearly 20% had severe anxiety, and more than 11% admitted to having suicidal thoughts in the previous year.
Tips to Improve Lawyer Mental Health
The following tips can help you establish healthier habits at work and home.
1. Cultivate Fulfilling Personal Relationships
Good friendships not only make life more fulfilling but can also improve your mental and physical health in a variety of ways, according to the Mayo Clinic. Benefits can include:
- Reduced stress
- A sense of purpose and community
- A helping hand to aid you in navigating traumatic life events, such as a divorce or job loss
- An increase in positive behaviors
- Decreased risk of health issues, such as depression, unhealthy body mass index (BMI), and high blood pressure
Make time to form and nurture strong, healthy friendships. If you’re looking to make new connections, explore local bar association groups, community organizations, and/or hobby-based gatherings.
2. Eat Well
You know what they say: You are what you eat. Studies have demonstrated a link between diets high in refined sugars and diminished brain function, as reported by Harvard Health Publishing. Unhealthy dietary habits can even exacerbate the symptoms of mental health issues, including depression.
Give your body and mind the right fuel. Doctors generally recommend a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and similarly healthy foods, but it’s best to consult a medical professional about what’s right for you.
3. Practice Self-Care
You probably already practice daily good habits for improving physical health, such as brushing your teeth. Now do the same for your mental and emotional wellness. Here are a few self-care suggestions that can improve mental health for lawyers.
- Try breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing
- Practice meditation
- Get outdoors
- Take vacation time
- Stay hydrated and well-rested
- Express gratitude
How to Get Mental Health Assistance
If you need help building healthier habits or addressing mental health struggles, consider the following resources.
- Your employer’s human resources department—they may be able to offer specialized assistance for your particular situation, including healthcare benefits
- A list of tools and education from the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs (CoLAP)
- A directory of Lawyer Assistance Programs by state
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s website and National Helpline (1-800-662-HELP), which can guide you to treatment options
- Guided meditation offered on YouTube and through apps like Headspace and Calm
Final Notes About Mental Health for Lawyers
Practicing law is a difficult job. The best way to avoid burnout and enjoy your practice is to prioritize your physical and mental wellness. This involves streamlining law firm operations to remove unnecessary administrative tasks and regain billable hours.
MyCase can help you do just that. Our comprehensive suite of practice management features includes:
See how MyCase benefits lawyers’ mental health. Get your free 10-day trial now.
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