Legal eaglets learn to fend off depression
Sydney Morning Herald
Friday March 18, 2011
LAW students experience depression at triple the rate of the general population, with common personality traits like perfectionism and pessimism increasing susceptibility to the disease.Top law firms have begun educating recruits on the illness and law schools are starting to teach work-life balance, the Australian Law Student Association's education vice president, Melissa Coade, said.Both the learning environment and the competitive nature of students added to the high prevalence of depression, Ms Coade said."They're strong academic performers but also highly competitive," she said."They are also vying for the same sorts of lucrative professional jobs."In 2009 research published by the University of Sydney's brain and mind research institute, law students reported psychological distress at a higher rate than other Australians.About 35 per cent of law students reported high or very high levels of distress, compared with 13 per cent of the general population.A separate study by Beaton Consulting found 15 per cent of lawyers showed moderate to severe symptoms of depression, a greater rate than found among engineers, architects, accountants and IT professionals.The Australian Law Students Association's handbook advises its 28,000 members on how to manage stress."In general, lawyers share two personality traits that may predispose them to depression and other stress-related illnesses: perfectionism and pessimism," the publication, Depression in Australian Law Schools, says."The legal profession rewards lawyers' drive to explore and investigate every tiny detail, leaving no loose threads that could be used against them or their clients."However, perfectionism can also set people up to think that whatever they do is not good enough. They tend not to enjoy their achievements."Marie Jepson, who started the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation after the suicide of her law graduate son, said depression among students and lawyers was three to four times that of the public."The research shows self-esteem of students before they enter law is average to above average and within a few months of entering law schools, mental health deteriorates and deteriorates quite rapidly," she said.The cut-throat nature of law caused students to ignore sources of help, like family, friends and exercise."The demands of the course are so great, they go it alone. They are not very good at asking for help," she said.In a trial at the University of Wollongong, first year students are taught resilience, emotional intelligence and techniques for avoiding burnout.At Macquarie University, law students work with their peers to encourage a collaborative atmosphere.The Australian Learning and Teaching Council has instituted a national standard requiring students to demonstrate work-life balance before graduation.Last year the law firms Allens Arthur Robinson, Blake Dawson, Clayton Utz, Freehills and Mallesons Stephen Jaques joined to launch an education program to tackle depression.For more information about depression go to beyondblue. org.au or call the Beyond Blue info line 1300 224 636.