Mental health toll on doctors and lawyers

Tuesday 30 May 2017
Ursula McBride

Psychological injuries and illnesses can be caused by stressors in the workplace or instances of bullying, sexual harassment/discrimination or may be a secondary consequence of a physical injury.

For a personal injury lawyer, hearing these compelling, and often distressing, stories and providing advice can take a toll. Similarly, medical professionals often have to make quick judgments under pressure, work long hours, have difficulties with work-life balance and have to deal with traumatic situations, all of which can lead to a deterioration in mental health.

Both professions face the issue of stigmatisation and fears of damaging their careers which may prevent medical professionals or lawyers seeking help when they need it most.

A study revealing the risk of psychological harm to medical graduates, showed 75% suffered burnout eight months into an internship and 73% of interns met the criteria for psychiatric morbidity on at least one occasion¹. In 2011, a study of 125 professional associations and professional services firms found that lawyers were the most likely to experience symptoms of depression².

Constant and stressful demands of the health and legal profession may include:

  • High workloads
  • Patient or client expectations
  • Assisting with people’s problems on a daily basis
  • Commercial pressures
  • Workplace culture
  • Dealing with traumatic incidents or material
  • Feelings of isolation.

Mental health awareness initiatives highlight the importance of understanding the causes of psychological distress, and in particular the high prevalence rates among health professionals and lawyers. Deeper awareness of mental health issues in these professions means that strategies promoting health and wellbeing can be developed and prevent those working in these industries from becoming unwell.

¹ Willcock SM et al. Burnout and psychiatric morbidity in new medical graduates. Med J Aust. 2004;181(7): 357-60.
² Beaton Consulting & Beyond Blue. Mental Health in the Workplace. Annual Business and Professions study 2011.

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