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Is Social Media the Answer to Lawyers’ Depression Problem?

 

A study by John Hopkins University concluded that the rate of depression among lawyers is 3.6 times higher than that of other professions studied. Another study by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that lawyers are more likely to commit suicide than non-lawyers. Also, 70 percent of Yale Law School students surveyed in a 2014 study reported that they have struggled with mental health issues during their time at law school.[1] The results of these studies show that something about the legal profession makes it more stressful than other professions.

 

It has been argued that “perfectionism and pessimism” are likely the cause of the widespread depression within the legal community. Lawyers, it is said, are trained to abide by extremely high standards which are, on the one hand, essential to their professional success, and on the hand detrimental to their mental health.[2] Because of their “overdeveloped sense of control,” the argument goes, lawyers blame themselves if things do not go as planned.[3] Lawyers are also said to be “Paid worriers” who are preoccupied with predicting the future and anticipating threats, “[s]o they learn to see problems everywhere, even when they don’t exist.” Accordingly, lawyers are advised to avoid anxiety through meditation, focusing on the present, and seeking medical help.[4]

 

While I agree that perfectionism and pessimism may be detrimental to lawyers’ mental health when taken to the extremes, I disagree that perfectionism and pessimism explain the disparity in depression rate between lawyers and non-lawyers because some level of perfectionism and pessimism are expected of all professionals, whether they are lawyers or not. The disparity in depression rate between lawyers and non-lawyers, I believe, stems from the professional rules that disallow lawyers from sharing their mundane experiences, particularly work experiences, with their friends and loved ones.

 

In order to reduce stress, it is necessary for lawyers, whose profession constantly brings them in contact with the suffering of others, to have an outlet of sharing their experiences, and I believe social media provides that outlet.  In fact, a study by the Pew Research Center found that people who share their experiences on social media experience less stress than those who do not.[5] Sadly, state bars and ethics rules make it difficult for lawyers to utilize social media.[6]

 

[1] Leslie Gordon. How lawyers can avoid burnout and debilitating anxiety. ABA Journal (July, 01, 2015). Available at http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/how_lawyers_can_avoid_burnout_and_debilitating_anxiety.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Megan Friedman. Social Media Can Actually Make You Feel Less Stressed. Available at http://www.elle.com/life-love/news/a26068/social-media-can-actually-make-you-feel-less-stressed/.

[6] Kellen Andrew Hade. Not All Lawyers Are Antisocial! Analyzing Limitations on Attorneys’ Use of Social Networking under the First Amendment. Available at https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/ethics_2020/ethics_20_20_comments/hade_newtechnologiesissuespapers.authcheckdam.pdf.

-Musah Abubakar