Lawyers, Mental Health and Ego - Let's Talk About It!

Author Chloe Morgan

Lawyers, Mental Health and Ego - Let's Talk About It!

Author Chloe Morgan

The tendency for those in the legal field, when it comes to psychological illness and distress, is to ‘get on with it’. The immediate associations with being diagnosed as mentally unwell include cases that we work with; reduced capacity or being deemed incapable. It is a terrifying thought, and often (as people in a high-stress, high-functioning profession), our egos will not let us seek help or diagnoses at the risk of associating ourselves and our professions with this perceived weakness.

However, with the rising rates of diagnosed mental health issues and suicide in the legal community, we need to put our egos to the side and acknowledge mental health crises in lawyers as the serious issue that it is. Additionally, we need to find in this acknowledgement not shame, but strength and pride. Despite our training to appear unflappable, it is an unquestionable strength to acknowledge personal struggle and surpass it.

10% of the average population suffers from a mental illness – amongst lawyers, it is as high as 30%. And this is just diagnosed mental illness; the actual percentage could be higher. There is a stigma in the legal community with mental health issues that is deeply rooted in our role as societal pillars and advocates. We view ourselves as an unshakeable bastion; we see the worst of people and communities, and we hold our heads high and get our work done regardless.

But while our egos are necessary to do our job, they damage us personally. We lead high-stress lives where we focus continually on the negative. As a result, many people who gravitate towards the legal profession already have anxious and depressive tendencies; and many more develop these through working in law. In essence, we’re dealing with an entire profession of highly intelligent, highly analytical and proud individuals with depressive tendencies, which is inevitably a recipe for disaster.  

A lot of lawyers cope with this stress and mood upheaval through substance abuse. Most of us bury ourselves further in our work. While these reactions both come from the traditional, ‘just get on with it’ viewpoint of our profession, these reactions merely prolong the inevitable – a nervous break, where we emotionally and mentally shut down and cannot continue. Needless to say, letting it get to this point does not help anyone, least of all yourself.

However, the healthy response – the response that does not damage ourselves, our cases or our interpersonal relationships – is to take a week off work. The cases can wait, your clients can wait, your practice can (and will) continue without you. See a friend. See your GP. Honestly, genuinely, open up and discuss what you’re dealing with. See a psychologist, see a psychiatrist – someone who thoroughly understands the human mind and what you’re handling. Seek that help – whether it involves something as simple as a chat, or cognitive behaviour therapy, or as complex as medication and hospitalisation. Taking that time for yourself and reaching out show far more resilience than gradually running yourself into the ground ever could.

The bottom line is that you need to put your ego to the side and reach out, as you cannot be the legal practitioner you want to be, or need to be, if you don’t look after yourself.

The ultimate irony is that, while so many lawyers eschew mental health help out of pride, it is something that we deeply respect in others – be they our clients, co-workers, friends or family. This denial of help is a trend that needs to go. We see the worst in the world around us, and it is such a STRENGTH to acknowledge and treat personal strain from this so we can continue to change, uphold, and carry on. Remember – the cases can keep going indefinitely, but without help, you can’t.