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Depression in the Legal Profession

Added on April 22, 2011

Most of us know intuitively that being optimistic makes us happier than being pessimistic. But there are times when pessimism is a requirement for the job.

Take the Law. When seeking the help of a good lawyer you probably want someone with a fair degree of pessimism. You don’t want someone who has a “she’ll be right!” attitude – you want someone who can see all the potential pitfalls of a situation and put in place strategies to prevent them, or address them if the worst happens.

So you probably won’t be surprised to hear that lawyers are considered to be one of the most pessimistic of all professions.
Unfortunately for lawyers however, pessimism is a strong risk factor for depression.

In fact, the literature states that lawyers are at greater risk than the general population for depression, heart disease, alcoholism and illegal drug use. And that they frequently become disenchanted with their career early in their professional life.
Furthermore in an American study, when the legal profession was compared with 100 other occupations, it was found that lawyers are almost four times more likely to experience depression than the general population.

The cost to the individual and their family is obvious, but unhappy lawyers also cost their firms and their clients by failing to achieve their full potential, and often leaving the profession early, thereby resulting in a loss of talent to the profession.
One Australian study found that 15% of lawyers surveyed suffered moderate to severe depression. They identified several possible causes for this, one of which is the personality type attracted to this profession, as well as the inherent nature of the legal profession.

For example, lawyers tend to be cautious and sceptical, seeing potential catastrophes where others may not. Whereas this quality may be a great asset to a lawyer, it is well documented that catastrophising can predispose someone to depression and anxiety, particularly if a lawyer carries that quality over to their personal life.

In fact although the ability to always seek out the worst-case scenario may be advantageous in a legal practice, the qualities that make for a good lawyer may not make for a happy human being, as catastrophising and pessimism are well documented as major risk factors for unhappiness and depression.

Learning tools to increase Optimism and Positivity may be helpful as optimism has been shown to correlate with good health, perhaps by improving one’s immunological robustness, reduce one’s time spent with negative thoughts, and encourage health-promoting behaviour.

Optimism is not about having a “Pollyanna” outlook – it’s about attitude and expectation, dealing with each situation as it arises with a non-judgmental attitude, ie the situation is neither good nor bad, it just is, and must be dealt with appropriately.

When people face difficulty, the emotions they experience can range from excitement and eagerness to anger, anxiety and depression.  Optimists tend to expect good outcomes, even when things are hard, and this yields positive emotions.  By contrast, pessimists expect bad outcome, and this may yield more negative emotions, thereby putting one at risk for anxiety and depression.

For a workplace seminar on “Building Positivity in the Workplace” email Judith@yourmindcoach.com.au or call 0433 496 390

About Judith Lissing

Judith Lissing is a Clinical Hypnotherapist and Wellness Coach, with 15 years experience in teaching stress management and meditation. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours in Immunology and a Masters degree in Public Health, both from the University of NSW. She is also an Associate Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of NSW since 1999. Judith is trained in Wellness Coaching with Wellcoaches U.S. and holds a Diploma in Hypnotherapy. Prior to coaching professionally, Judith held a statewide management role with NSW Health working with all levels of staff across the health sector.

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