In Ontario, all lawyers, paralegals and articling students are being invited to participate
Lawyers across Canada have been invited to participate in a national study on personal well-being in the legal profession.
The project is being carried out by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, the Canadian Bar Association and the Université de Sherbrooke. The idea is to better understand determinants of well-being, risk factors and how Law Societies and other organizations can better support lawyers and develop appropriate intervention strategies.
“There is growing evidence that there is a mental health crisis in the legal profession, yet there is no national data in Canada to provide a roadmap of the issues and to guide potential solutions,” says Dr. Natalie Cadieux, a researcher at the University of Sherbrooke who specializes in mental health and well-being among professionals.
“The study will result in Canada-wide data that will provide a rigorous measurement of the health problems among legal professionals, such as anxiety, burnout and alcohol and drug use, as well as measurement of the stressors that cause these health challenges,” says Cadieux.
Participants will complete a confidential questionnaire and in Ontario, project coordinators are inviting all lawyers and paralegals, including those not currently working, on leave or retired; articling candidates and experiential learning candidates from Ryerson University’s Law Practice Program, Programme de pratique du droit at the University of Ottawa or the Integrated Practice Curriculum program at Lakehead University.
The questionnaire will be available until June 25, 2021 and takes around 30-45 minutes to complete.
Recent studies in Quebec and the U.S. have demonstrated the legal profession’s uniquely high levels of depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse and other psychological distresses, says Steve Raby, president of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. COVID has added urgency to confronting this reality and the national survey will serve as a source of information and “launch point for action,” he says.
“The national study will address the gap in data on the mental health of legal professionals in Canada,” says Raby. “With national data, law societies will better understand the issues, and any recommendations to address them will be evidence-based.”
Cadieux’s previous research in Quebec shows that young lawyers, lawyers in private practice and lawyers using the billable model are particularly at risk of mental health problems. Forty-three per cent of lawyers in that province reported suffering from “psychological distress.” Other studies show lawyers are six-times more likely to commit suicide, three-times more likely to suffer from depression and three-times more likely to become an alcoholic or addict, said the Federation.
In the Quebec study, Cadieux, along with the Barreau du Quebec, developed several recommended courses of action to contend with their findings. First, the profession must raise awareness of mental health in the workplace and encourage healthy lifestyle habits.
“Unfortunately, in the legal field, as in many other work environments in Quebec and Canada, mental health problems are still a taboo subject,” says Cadieux. “We have observed that individuals experiencing mental health problems, whether in the form of psychological distress or burnout, cannot afford to show their weaknesses for fear of being stigmatized. Yet, mental health problems are very present.”
“This makes it difficult for individuals to seek support from colleagues or from their supervisor,” she says. “Individuals thus isolated are forced to adopt other strategies to deal with the stress they face, such as talking about it with people outside of work, seeking outside professional help, changing jobs and even leaving the profession.”
The recommended courses of action also included building training tools and targeted intervention for at-risk groups, implementing a “centralized mentoring program” and improving the public perception of the legal profession.