Concerning lawyer's mental health (Part 1)

Mental health in Bulgaria is still a taboo. The reasons for this are maybe rooted in the culture of our people from centuries ago, when the khans had to be as close as possible to the image of God, perhaps in the fear of today's people to be rejected by society, and mostly because of the fear from looking weak. However, in order to become a prosperous society, we must talk about our problems as such and accept the difficulties that each of us as a person is facing with our heads raised. Contrary to all the jokes spread about lawyers, they are also human beings and experience various existential crises that can lead to the development of various mental disorders.

Legal research on the mental health of lawyers, even conducted on the territory of the country, is not very popular. Nevertheless, in order to grow as a community, we will benefit from a 2016 study accomplished by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in collaboration with the American Bar Association. The survey included 12,825 practicing lawyers from 19 states enrolled in the respective association. The number of participants according to the gender criterion is approximately equal - about 53% of the participants are men and about 47% are women, divided into categories under 30, over 30, over 40, and over 50. In addition to the features described above, participants are also separated according to the length of their practice - under 10 years, over 10 years, over 20 years and over 30 years of experience in the legal profession (lawyers, defense attorneys, judges, etc.).


The results of the survey are very disturbing. According to the study, 28% of participants suffer from depression and other depressive states, 21% have problems with alcohol and other illicit and licit substances, 19% suffer from anxiety, and 11.2% have had suicidal thoughts during their careers caused by their work. It is important to note that out of all 12 825 respondents, only 3419 answered the questions regarding drugs. Of those who answered the question, 5.6% were addicted to cocaine or other stimulants, 5.6% had opioid addiction, 10.2% were using marijuana and hashish, and 16% were using different sorts of xanax-type sedatives. This shows that 37.4% of respondents to substance abuse dependency questions have developed ones. These figures are extremely frightening, as about 75% of participants did not even answer the questions about addiction to various illicit and licit substances at all. In addition, 85% of the 12,825 people had consumed alcohol in the last year, compared to only 65% ​​of the population during the same period.

After looking at the statistics, so that there are not left as just numbers in the minds of our readers, we need to take a look deeper into the issues and examine the original source. We will start with a short profile of people who choose to practice any legal profession. It all starts with the admission to the Higher education institution. This is the first collision of young, future lawyers with the harsh professional environment they want to grow in. According to psychologist Dr. Andy Benjamin, the people who apply for and get accepted for legal education have strong personalities and are much healthier than the general population, have strong moral values, which is why they want to help society. Subsequently, however, things change and take a completely different appearance, due to the heavy workload, the constant need to prove yourself, and the long sleepless nights associated with the development of knowledge and new abilities. The opinion of others, their status and material values ​​are becoming increasingly important for these same people. According to Will Miller (a prosecutor with 10 years of experience), this happens because, especially in the bar, lawyers are rewarded for being hostile. In summary, they are becoming less interested in whether they are helping, and increasingly, in how they look in the eyes of others, basically what is their status in society.

Initially, lawyers are people who can be called workaholics. Every practitioner knows that there are no working hours in this profession. We must work until the small hours, often missing any rest, whether in the form of sleep or some kind of vacation away from work, and even important moments of our loved ones' lives are missed. This is one of the reasons why it is a profession with high levels of stress. In addition, the responsibility that every practitioner bear is enormous. Under the weight of these two basic prerequisites and many more, stress levels exceed the standards and can break even the strongest characters. For this reason, and because of the fear of what they will look in the eyes of their colleagues, often lawyers are trying to overcome their problems alone. In this part, the short profile I described above, namely that lawyers are strong personalities, intervenes. A major problem with this is that strong characters rarely seek any help outside of themselves. As a result, problems develop and intensify and reach their peak levels, in which, as a large part of people and lawyers, they seek some escape from reality, whether with the help of alcohol or illicit substances.

There are various options for solving the problems described. First, it is the creation of mutual help groups in which participants can talk about their problems without worrying about being judged (as a person) and looked as inferior people. These are meetings between people with the same problems, who share their experience with each other in order to come to a solution to their problems, or at least acknowledge that they have a problem, because that is the most important part. Realizing the problem, it is much easier to find the right approach to find a solution. Secondly, individual meetings with psychologists can be arranged for lawyers to speak privately without having to worry about being among other people. These meetings should be organized by the Bar Association, in which they pay membership fees each month. This will turn into something normal and there will be no fear of the question "What will people say about me?" It will be much easier if the problem is not eradicated, but at least limited.

Change and prosperity are not easy to achieve, neither in a short time, but must still be made step by step. When this step is made steadily, precisely by the lawyers, as they are to a large extent the moral measure and catalyst for the development of the whole society, the accumulation of real actions will lead to a huge change, not only in the legal guild, but also in the whole public system.

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