Goodness, 2022 continues to be a trying year! From school shootings to inflation to insurrection hearings and the general undercurrent of worry and fear. Who knew that 2020 would continue in perpetuity?
When I started writing for Above the Law, I focused on topics necessary for business success: hiring, firing, systems, processes, decision-making, etc. I wrote the articles I thought an attorney in a small or solo firm would find helpful; thankfully, lawyers did find it helpful, and they have reached out to me by the dozens to tell me so.
However, the longer I practice law, the more I have conversations with lawyers who are burned out, doubtful about their career choice, and disillusioned about the world (though, arguably, anyone living in this day and time is going through a lot). Lawyer mental health and wellness is integral to running a firm.
In law school, I remember learning about high stats related to lawyers’ alcoholism, depression, stress, and suicide rates. Back then, I couldn’t fathom why so many lawyers struggled. As I have matured in my practice, I now see it, experience it, and have witnessed it in colleagues managing hardships. The struggle is real, y’all, literally and figuratively.
In 2016, a group of 12,825 licensed and employed attorneys completed surveys to assess alcohol and drug use, depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms. Results showed significant levels of depression (28%), anxiety (19%), stress (23%), and alcohol-dependent drinking (20.6%).
Additionally, the suicide rate in the United States increased by 30% between 2000 and 2020 to 13.5 suicides, up from 10.4 suicides per 100,000 people. Chelsie Kryst, a 30-year-old lawyer and “Extra” correspondent, who won the Miss USA pageant in 2019, died by suicide earlier this year after jumping from an apartment building in New York City.
In a 2021 Allure article, Kryst poignantly wrote:
I discovered that the world’s most important question, especially when asked repeatedly and answered frankly, is: why? Why earn more achievements just to collect another win? Why pursue another plaque or medal or line item on my resume if it’s for vanity’s sake, rather than out of passion? Why work so hard to capture the dreams I’ve been taught by society to want when I continue to only find emptiness?
Kryst’s chilling and relatable words apply to our prestigious profession.
The mental health and addiction numbers are also alarming for law students. A 2017 survey of 3,300 law students from 15 law schools found:
- 25% are at risk for alcoholism.
- 17% suffer from depression.
- 37% report mild to severe anxiety.
- 6% report having suicidal thoughts in the last year.
We, in the legal profession, must take care of ourselves.
If you or any lawyer you know is struggling with their mental health, suicidal ideation, addiction, or alcoholism, help is available to you. Lawyer assistance programs will help you find solutions and resources for integrating a healthier lifestyle. For example, the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (TLAP) maintains a database of mental health professionals and support groups familiar with the challenges lawyers face. Your state has similar resources so take advantage of available services — often at no cost.
I’m not a mental health professional, but I am rooting for your wellness. Take care of yourself!
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by phone at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Iffy Ibekwe is the principal attorney of Ibekwe Law, PLLC. She believes that women deserve to make decisions that affect them with wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents. Activating women is Iffy’s calling, and she also loves speaking internationally about entrepreneurship, estate planning, motherhood, and supporting other women lawyers. Currently, Iffy is writing her first book on culturally competent estate planning, available in 2023 (prayers up!). A double-Longhorn, Iffy graduated from The University of Texas (undergrad and law) and has practiced law for over 15 years. Iffy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, her website, LinkedIn, and Instagram @iffyibekweesq.
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