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Lawyers with High Stress 22 Times More Likely to Contemplate Suicide than Those with Low Stress

Lawyers with High Stress 22 Times More Likely to Contemplate Suicide than Those with Low Stress

The California Lawyers Association and the District of Columbia Bar issued the following news release:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. and WASHINGTON, D.C. – The California Lawyers Association (CLA) and the D.C. Bar shared findings today from a groundbreaking research project offering insight into personal and workplace risk factors for mental health problems among practicing attorneys. 

In 2020, the two organizations announced their participation in the project, which has now yielded the third in a series of published papers. Titled “Stressed, Lonely, and Overcommitted: Predictors of Lawyer Suicide Risk,” the findings were published February 11, 2023 in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Healthcare. The research project was led by attorney mental health and well-being expert Patrick Krill, of Krill Strategies, and Justin J. Anker from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota.

Using a random sample of approximately 2,000 practicing lawyers from California and Washington, D.C., the latest research examined the relationship between thoughts of suicide and various factors that negatively and disproportionately affect lawyers including perceived stress, loneliness, work overcommitment, work-family conflict, alcohol use, and prior mental health diagnosis.

From the abstract:

Suicide is a significant public health concern, and lawyers have been shown to have an elevated risk for contemplating it. 

In this study, we sought to identify predictors of suicidal ideation in a sample consisting of 1962 randomly selected lawyers. Using logistic regression analysis, we found that high levels of work overcommitment, high levels of perceived stress, loneliness as measured by the UCLA loneliness scale, and being male were all significantly associated with an increased risk of suicidal ideation. 

These results suggest that interventions aimed at reducing work overcommitment, stress, and loneliness, and addressing gender-specific risk factors, may be effective in reducing the risk of suicidal ideation among lawyers. Further research is needed to expand upon these findings and to develop and test interventions specifically tailored to the needs of this population.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Lawyers were twice as likely as the general population to experience suicidal ideation.
  • Perceived stress was the number one predictor of suicidality; compared to lawyers with low stress, those with high stress were a remarkable 22 times more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, and lawyers with intermediate levels of stress were 5.5 times more likely.
  • Lonely lawyers were nearly three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, and those who are highly over-committed to work more than twice as likely.
  • Male lawyers were twice as likely to contemplate suicide, a notable difference from the general population where women experience higher levels of suicidal ideation. Prior mental health diagnosis also increased risk of suicidal ideation.
  • A significantly greater proportion of lawyers who contemplated suicide indicated that working in the legal profession was detrimental to their mental health and contributed to their substance use and feelings of burnout.
  • The profile of a lawyer with the highest risk for suicide was a lonely or socially isolated male with a high level of unmanageable stress, who was overly committed to their work, and may have a history of mental health problems. The heightened risk of suicidal ideation extends well beyond this specific profile.

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