Demons of depression, addiction haunt many lawyers: Singer
“I’m one of the lucky few who escaped the clutches of addiction. And there are thousands of lawyers across Canada who could probably use a helping hand,” says Singer, principal of Singer Barristers Professional Corporation.
Singer, who recently wrote about a six-year battle with depression, anxiety and an OxyContin addiction in the Globe and Mail, says the irony of his story is that he had what anyone else would consider a “plum job” as general counsel at a financial company. But it didn’t fit his personality and compounded other personal issues, to the point where he plummeted into disaster.
He says his Globe article sparked more than 200 emails from lawyers and even judges from across Canada, thanking him for sharing his story.
“So, why should you care about these issues if you are not struggling? Because the lawyer who might be your partner, associate, friend, opposing counsel, or classmate might be. And no matter how smug you are about it today, it could happen to you,” he says.
“But at a minimum, the issue affects us all. Clients suffer, the administration of justice suffers, and the reputation of the profession suffers.”
The legal profession has come a long way in considering issues of wellness, mental health and addiction, he adds. While the subjects are often taboo for the average person, it’s doubly so for lawyers.
Although wellness is gaining more attention, the suffering continues, he says. Rates of depression among lawyers are reported to be as high as 33 per cent — two to three times that of the general population.
Singer says substance abuse and alcoholism is twice as common among lawyers than other people, with an estimated 25 per cent of those facing disciplinary proceedings because of drugs, alcohol or depression.
“My experience representing lawyers at discipline hearings suggests the number of lawyers with substance or mental health issues is actually significantly higher, perhaps even a majority,” he writes.
High levels of suicide, marriage breakdowns and stress tied to student loans also need to be considered, he says.
“I don’t have all the answers. But having spent hundreds of hours over the last six years helping others with similar issues, I believe I have unique insight and answers to many of these questions.”