Lawyers’ Stress

A recent article in the Louisville Courier-Journal discusses a disturbingupward trend in attorney suicides.  This is not an altogether new concern.  More than 25 years ago, Dr. Andy Benjamin and his colleagues identified legal education and the resulting culture that has been created as leading to serious mental distress among attorneys, as reflected in much higher than normal rates of substance abuse and depression.  There are many causes for this, generally unacknowledged, problem.  Perhaps the greatest is that it is unacknowledged.  Lawyers are trained from the inception of their education, and are probably self-selected as well, to eschew emotion at the expense of reason.  I recall at the beginning of law school we would exalt the ARM (the Average Reasonable Man).  No greater disdain exists than that heaped by lawyers upon anything that is “touchy feely.”  No wonder that lawyers (who are human beings, after all – with active limbic systems that generate the normal amount of fear, caution, anger and grief over loss) will erect concrete mental defenses against acknowledging  their fear, caution, anger and grief….well, not anger.  That emotion gets a pass.  It’s easy to protect oneself against appearing vulnerable with the expression of anger.  When we are forced to protect ourselves from judgment – which is leveled at our natural thoughts and feelings – life can become exhausting and alienating.  I see this even among my colleagues in the collaborative law community.  These are a group of lawyers (and other professionals) who are striving to make the experience of law healing, rather than damaging, for those who encounter it.  Yet these lawyers, too, avoid disclosure of personal doubt, worry, sadness or fear.  These precise feelings that are universal and which can form the real basis of a bonded community are dismissed as inappropriate within this professional world.  More’s the pity.