Depression is a common and disabling problem for lawyers, particularly law students, with more than 40 per cent of students reporting psychological distress severe enough to justify clinical/medical assessment, research has found.
The study - the largest ever survey of legal practitioners and students in Australia - also found that almost a third of solicitors and one in five barristers suffer levels of depression associated with disability.
The findings were presented at the Tristan Jepson Memorial Lecture, an annual event addressing the issue of depression among lawyers. Jointly organised by UNSW and the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, the 2008 lecture Lawyers are Human too, was held at the Sydney offices of law firm Blake Dawson.
The memorial foundation was established in memory of Tristan Jepson, a former UNSW law student and lawyer who took his own life in 2004. It aims to provide a framework and support for ongoing discussion and research on the issue of mental health in the legal profession.
The research, conducted by Professor Ian Hickie from the Brain and Mind Research Institute, supports earlier findings that the incidence of depression in the legal profession is much higher than in the general population. Lawyers consistently rank first in surveys on depression, with one study finding that 11 per cent of lawyers contemplate suicide every month.
Fifteen per cent of lawyers meet the criteria of alcoholism, while substance abuse is dominant in up to 80 per cent of complaints against the Australian legal profession.
The lecture was followed by a panel discussion by the Deans of Law from UNSW, the University of Sydney, UTS and University of Wollongong and chaired by President of the NSW Bar Association, Anna Katzmann, SC.
Dean of UNSW's Faculty of Law Professor David Dixon says the University is working to tackle the problem.
Led by Professor Prue Vines, who is trained in both law and psychology, the UNSW Law School and the students' Law Society collaborated in 2003 to introduce Law MSN, the Law Mentoring Support Network. Designed to support first year law students, Law MSN is a vital support for students encountering the challenging surroundings of Law School.
Professor Vines also leads an e-network of academics in 16 law schools that discusses and shares experiences of countering depression among students.
See The Australian newspaper's report on the lecture
For information about depression: The Black Dog Institute.
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