Study says stress and overwork are linked to suicidal thoughts among lawyers

High stress was the biggest predictor of suicidal thoughts, researchers found that men and younger lawyers were also more likely to report suicidal thoughts

(Reuters) – Lawyers who experience high levels of stress, overwork and loneliness are more likely to consider suicide, according to a new study that complements a growing body of research into the mental health challenges facing the legal profession.

The study, published Monday in the journal Healthcare, also concluded that attorneys are twice as likely as other working US adults to have suicidal thoughts, echoing previous findings.

For the report, Stressed, Lonely, and Overcommitted: Predictors of Lawyer Suicide Risk, researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 attorneys in California and the District of Columbia about their mental health, substance use, workload, and stress levels.

Nearly 9% of respondents said they thought they were better off dead or thinking of hurting themselves at least multiple times.

Patrick Krill, a lawyer who advises legal employers on health issues and a co-author of the study, said this is the first study to examine what drives higher levels of suicidal ideation among lawyers and how to identify those most at risk.

The study found that lawyers with “high workload” were 2.2 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, and lawyers who reported being lonely were 2.8 times more likely. Lawyers diagnosed with at least one mental illness were 1.8 times more likely to report suicidal thoughts, according to the study.

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Male lawyers were twice as likely to report suicidal thoughts as female lawyers — an unexpected finding given that women generally have higher rates of suicidal thoughts but lower rates of death from suicide, according to the study. Lawyers in their 30s and 40s also reported higher levels of suicidal ideation than older lawyers.

Of the lawyers who reported suicidal thoughts, 66% said their time in the legal profession had been detrimental to their mental health. And 46% of them said they were considering quitting their job due to stress or burnout.

The new findings suggest that the legal profession should reduce the stressors attorneys face while improving their stress tolerance, the study found.

But legal employers have focused wellbeing efforts on stress management tools and self-care resources for individuals, rather than driving structural changes such as reducing unrealistic time pressures and reducing workloads, the authors wrote.

“Taken together, these results underscore the need for interventions to address work-related stress and loneliness in the legal profession,” the report states.

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Karen Sloan

Thomson Reuters

Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools and legal businesses. You can reach her at [email protected]