Lawyers Experience Heightened Risk of Suicidal Ideation Compared to Other Groups; Stress, Loneliness, Work Overcommitment and Gender Among Top Predictors of Risk
SACRAMENTO, Calif. and WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 13, 2023) – California Lawyers Association (CLA) and the D.C. Bar shared findings today from a groundbreaking research project offering insight into personal and workplace risk factors for mental health problems among practicing attorneys. In 2020, the two organizations announced their participation in the project, which has now yielded the third in a series of published papers. Titled “Stressed, Lonely, and Overcommitted: Predictors of Lawyer Suicide Risk,” the findings were published February 11, 2023 in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Healthcare. The research project was led by attorney mental health and well-being expert Patrick Krill, of Krill Strategies, and Justin J. Anker from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota.
Using a random sample of approximately 2,000 practicing lawyers from California and Washington, D.C., the latest research examined the relationship between thoughts of suicide and various factors that negatively and disproportionately affect lawyers including perceived stress, loneliness, work overcommitment, work-family conflict, alcohol use, and prior mental health diagnosis.
Key findings from the study include:
- Lawyers were twice as likely as the general population to experience suicidal ideation.
- Perceived stress was the number one predictor of suicidality; compared to lawyers with low stress, those with high stress were a remarkable 22 times more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, and lawyers with intermediate levels of stress were 5.5 times more likely.
- Lonely lawyers were nearly three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, and those who are highly over-committed to work more than twice as likely.
- Male lawyers were twice as likely to contemplate suicide, a notable difference from the general population where women experience higher levels of suicidal ideation. Prior mental health diagnosis also increased risk of suicidal ideation.
- A significantly greater proportion of lawyers who contemplated suicide indicated that working in the legal profession was detrimental to their mental health and contributed to their substance use and feelings of burnout.
- The profile of a lawyer with the highest risk for suicide was a lonely or socially isolated male with a high level of unmanageable stress, who was overly committed to their work, and may have a history of mental health problems. The heightened risk of suicidal ideation extends well beyond this specific profile.
Key takeaways for legal employers and other stakeholders:
- A two-fold strategy whereby stressors in lawyers’ lives are reduced, and their stress tolerance is enhanced, would seem to be the most efficacious approach for mitigating the stress-suicidality risk in this population.
- Considering the profound impact of stress on lawyer suicidality, all options should be considered for mitigating stress, including an examination and recalibration of attitudes, norms, and cultures relating to their work.
- Employers may be able to help mitigate some of the loneliness their lawyers experience by making collaboration and regular social interactions in the work environment more of a priority.
- Given the high rates of alcohol misuse among lawyers, efforts to combat loneliness and isolation should avoid reliance on alcohol-based events as a primary means of increasing socialization and connection.
- By raising awareness of the notable downsides of being too committed to one’s work, encouraging lawyers to set appropriate boundaries in their lives, and reframing notions of success, the legal profession may be able to temper the harmful effects of work overcommitment.
“The legal profession has known that lawyers are disproportionately predisposed to suicidal thoughts, but we’ve been largely relying on assumptions and anecdotes to understand why,” said Patrick Krill of Krill Strategies. “With this research, however, we now have the beginnings of a data-driven formula for successfully mitigating risk and ultimately saving lives.”
California Lawyers Association CEO and Executive Director Oyango A. Snell, Esq. and D.C. Bar CEO Robert J. Spagnoletti thanked the researchers for continuing to glean new insights from their collaboration on the project.
“The results of this joint study validate what the California Lawyers Association has known for quite some time – attorneys spend so much time taking care of others and do not take enough care of themselves,” Snell said. “Alongside our partners at Krill Strategies, the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, and D.C. Bar, we commit to all attorneys that our focus has been and will always remain the health and well-being of attorneys. The data released in this study will further guide the strategies we are actively designing to mitigate these trends of self-harm and improve overall well-being.”
“Thanks to Patrick Krill and Justin Anker’s groundbreaking study of the lives of lawyers, we now have a better understanding of the many challenges they face in the pressure-filled legal profession,” said D.C. Bar CEO Robert J. Spagnoletti. “In addition to experiencing higher-than-average rates of depression and substance use disorders, Krill and Anker have confirmed that lawyers face a higher risk of suicide. Bar associations should lead the way in providing their members with critically important mental health services to reduce lawyer suicide. The D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program, which provides lawyers access to free confidential mental health, addiction, and well-being resources when they need them, is one example of how bars can support their members at risk of self-harm.”
About California Lawyers Association
Established in 2018 and headquartered in Sacramento, California Lawyers Association is the statewide voluntary bar association for all California attorneys. CLA’s mission is to promote excellence, diversity, and inclusion in the legal profession and fairness in the administration of justice and the rule of law. Visit us at www.calawyers.org to learn more about CLA or follow us on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.
About D.C. Bar
The District of Columbia Bar (D.C. Bar) is the largest unified bar in the United States, with more than 111,000 members in all 50 states and more than 80 countries and territories. Established by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in 1972, the D.C. Bar is responsible for licensing and disciplining attorneys who have been admitted to practice law in the District. The D.C. Bar is committed to enhancing access to justice, improving the legal system, and empowering lawyers to achieve success through its award-winning Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Program, diverse programming and initiatives, and other professional services. Learn more at www.dcbar.org.
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