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  • Writer's pictureadmandel4

For Lawyers, Stress Kills

Four of my law school friends recently connected at a wedding.  All four seemed happy but only one still practices law.  Is that a waste of talent or a testament to the versatility of our training?  Who knows. 

It made me think of what it takes to find balance and meaning as a lawyer.   As a psychologist, I’ve worked with attorneys at every level.  I've counseled junior associates second-guessing their career choices.  I've taught mid-career professionals skills to balance firm and family.  And I've helped senior partners approaching mandatory retirement think about what comes next.  As much as I love working directly with patients, demand for mental health care outstrips supply, so I look for opportunities to reach people outside the clinic. For my next project, I’ve decided to revisit the literature on life in the law and share what there is with my friends and colleagues. 

Topic number one: stress and suicide.

A 2023 study by Krill et al. made headlines observing that lawyers are twice as likely as members of the general public to endorse thoughts about killing or hurting themselves.  Amongst lawyers, those who endorse high levels of stress are twenty-two times more likely than their colleagues to endorse suicidal thoughts.

We all know what it feels like to be stressed but I want to share how we define stress as scientists.  Stress is what we feel when our bodies can't regulate (i.e., achieve homeostasis) because environmental demands overwhelm our capacity to respond.  Thinking back to when I was a junior finance associate during a credit boom, I can't remember a day when demands didn't overwhelm my capacity to respond.  I'm pretty sure the colleagues I'd see wandering the halls at 2:00 AM shared that experience.

That brings us to rule number one: stress kills.  To survive in law, one must learn how to manage stress and stressors.  If you need help, get help.

Krill, P. R., Thomas, H. M., Kramer, M. R., Degeneffe, N., & Anker, J. J. (2023). Stressed, Lonely, and Overcommitted: Predictors of Lawyer Suicide Risk. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 11(4), 536.

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