Physical and Mental Health in the Legal Profession


Physical and Mental Health in the Legal Profession

It is time for us, all of us, to look at Addictions and Mental Health issues in the legal profession and our attitudes to these problems.

A large national research project, undertaken by the American Bar Association (“ABA”) and the Hazelton Betty Ford Foundation, published in February 2016, has confirmed the alarmingly high rates of alcohol abuse and of depression and anxiety among lawyers.

Especially disturbing is that only 7% get help for their drinking problems and only 30% receive help for their depression or their anxiety. In other words, our colleagues are suffering and even dying unnecessarily.

The research project revealed that the largest impediment to getting help is that people “didn’t want others to know” and the closely related “confidentiality concerns.” That is, the stigma they believe exists against people with alcohol and mental health problems.

This research resulted in the ABA creating a Well-Being Task Force to develop a strategy to improve the health and well-being in the profession. The recommendations included creating a movement to change the culture of the legal profession to one of well-being. Well-being is defined as “a continuous process of moving toward thriving in all dimensions of our lives. This comes from positive psychology (as opposed to pathological psychology it is not about positive thinking). The idea is to change the culture such that the focus is on the whole person and our unique characteristics and support and encourage development of positive attributes, habits, traits, and processes. It is meant to encourage the idea that seeking help is a positive trait, and not a sign of weakness.

At Lawyers Assistance Program of BC (“LAPBC”) the seven dimensions we emphasize are:

  1. Physical
  2. Emotional
  3. Intellectual
  4. Occupational
  5. Spiritual
  6. Social
  7. Cultural

In this article I will discuss the Physical Dimension. It is defined as: Physical — striving for regular physical activity, proper diet and nutrition, sufficient sleep, and rejuvenation. Minimizing the use of addictive substances. Seeking help for physical health when needed.

You will notice that this includes more than exercise. There is some survey evidence that lawyers do take time to exercise and that is one of the areas they do value. However, I think that may be as a result of one of the problems that result in the high rates of mental health and addiction problems. Lawyers tend to drive themselves and to focus on extrinsic motivators. Looking good and having high energy fits with that.

Having worked with thousands of lawyers in the past 25 years I have noticed that most do exercise regularly, until overcome by anxiety, depression, or substance misuse. However, at least among the distressed lawyers there seems to be a neglect of other factors such as sleep, and having regular physical checkups, healthy eating, and in particular, a lax attitude toward the effect of mood-altering substances on their physical and mental health.

It is well documented that there is a close correlation between exercise and mental health. Exercise can reduce the incidents of depression and is a great anxiety reliever, and of course it is one of the best stress relievers. It operates at many levels to help us keep in equilibrium. It can help improve our sleep and sleep helps improve our physical and mental health. There is a synergy between all these many factors that work in a positive way when we develop healthy processes and habits and can work in a negative way when we do not pay attention.

As a beginning — a very simple way to develop the physical dimension is to take one minute (yes, just one minute) every day and ask: What can I do to thrive physically? What am I doing that prevents me from thriving physically? What could I do to thrive physically?

You can call LAPBC at 604-685-2171 or visit for more information and for confidential assistance.