Technology and Mental Health

How Lawyers Are Affected by Devices and Social Media
and What to Do About It

A few years ago, I was sitting in a partner’s office discussing what he described as the “good ole days.” He told me that without question the thing that made practicing law take a nosedive in terms of lifestyle and stress was the invention of the fax machine. I was amazed to hear him describe those days and to consider how the fax and other technologies have changed practicing law in the past few decades.

If you really think about it, everything is different today. Prior to the modern era, we spent thousands of years being outside most of the time and hunting or gathering or doing physical work – not sitting sedentary at a desk stressing out over deadlines and paperwork.

Now, Americans sit behind desks and stare at screens for an average of 10 hours and 39 minutes each day.1 Americans are watching more than seven hours and 50 minutes per day of television per household.2

Likewise, people are averaging 24 hours per week on the Internet3 and three to four hours per day on smartphones.4

For lawyers, a group already burdened with extraordinary anxiety and mental health challenges, the impact of these uses of technology could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Lawyers already have a high rate of depression, as compared with other occupational groups in the U.S.5 We also experience depression 3.6 times as often as the general population.6 Furthermore, we have staggering substance use numbers (21% of all attorneys and 32% of those under 30). In 2015, 46% of 13,000 attorneys admitted struggling with depression while practicing law, and most attorneys (61%) have suffered symptoms of serious anxiety disorders.7

Research: How Technology and Social Media Affect Mental Health

Several recent studies have examined the impact of technology and social media on mental health. The results are alarming. A 2010 study established a relationship between depression and text messaging and emailing.8 There is also a link between Facebook and depression due to increased social comparison and envy or disappointment in one’s status.9

Lawyers are the ultimate multitaskers, but research indicates that multitasking is very damaging to our mental health and can be a cause of depression.10

Nokia conducted a study back in 2011 that found the average person looks at his or her smartphone 150 times per day11 and there is little doubt this is worse for lawyers.

Consider these statistics regarding technology:

  • 58% of adults and 68% of young adults do not go an hour without checking their smartphones;
  • 73% feel panicked when they misplace their device;
  • 54% check it in bed; 39% check it while using the toilet; and
  • 30% check it while dining with others.12

A 2011 study showed that young adults averaged 109.5 text messages per day and over 3,200 per month.13 In 2014, adult Americans sent an average of 32 text messages per day. Three years later, teens and adults sent 94 text messages per day.14 We clearly have a serious problem.

Time Spent on Screens per Week

  • 26-36 Hours on Television
  • 19-28 Hours on Smartphone
  • 25+ Hours on a PC in the Office

WEEKLY: 71-89+ Hours Staring at Screens

DAILY: 10-13+ Hours Staring at Screens

Five Strategies for Lawyers to Make Healthy Changes to Their Use of Technology

  1. Set Limits

Setting some boundaries around the use of technology may be the most effective first step to establishing reasonable limits to the impact technology has on an attorney’s mental health:

Check email two to three times per day: If possible, check email when you get to work, around the lunch hour, and again toward the end of the day. This is a great way to disconnect and become more productive while also giving your mind a break from the technology overload.

Limit social media to 10 minutes per platform per day: One recent study indicated that limiting use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., to 10 minutes per day per platform decreases your sense of loneliness. 15

Monitor your use with Screen Time or another application: As ironic as it sounds, in the case of making change in the overuse of technology, the Screen Time app may just be a good thing.

  1. Disconnect

While setting limits may be helpful, cutting technology off completely for periods of time is essential to good mental health.

Use Do Not Disturb: When you go to the gym or for a walk, use it. Give yourself a break from the constant interruptions from text messages, emails, and updates.

Turn off notifications: A lot of lawyers do not even know that all the “breaking news,” texts, Facebook notifications, etc., that pop up on the locked screen of a smartphone can be easily turned off. On an iPhone (and most Android phones), you can simply go to settings and select notifications and turn “off” notifications for any application you choose.

Do not charge your phone beside bed: Lawyers can’t sleep, remember something they forgot, and end up on a rabbit trail and losing more sleep. Try to charge your phone in a place that would require you to get out of bed to look at it.

  1. Manage the Apps

Instead of trying to “moderate” your use of apps, you can delete the applications you waste the most time on, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Likewise, you can improve your smartphone experience by installing healthy apps, such as some of the self-care apps like Calm, Headspace, MyFitnessPal, etc.

  1. Unfollow the Unhealthy

Everyone that I know has at least one or two friends on Facebook who are train wrecks. Instead of being inundated with negative messages from these people on a daily basis, unfollow them! Replace them by following new resources and people that are uplifting.

  1. Plug in to Self-Care

Do you deserve 4% of your life? Four percent of your life is about one hour per day. Most lawyers I know do not take an hour per day for self-care. If we do not put it on our calendar,
we usually exhaust all of our time and energy taking care of our clients and our families. For these reasons, I challenge attorneys to calendar three things a week for self-care and to explore some of the many things that can make a difference
in an attorney’s wellness, such as mindfulness, gratitude journaling, service work, exercise, creative art, and more.

By Chris Ritter, Director of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program

This article was originally published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Reprinted with permission.

As we continue to strive to find a healthy balance in our lives in how we relate to technology, it is important to remember that this is only one area in which lawyers struggle. If you or a colleague are a lawyer, law student, or judge and need help, the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program is available to provide guidance and support. It’s confidential and free. Call us at 1.800.321.6227.

Notes:

  1. See Jacqueline Howard, “Americans Devote More Than 10 Hours a Day to Screen Time,” CNN (July 29, 2016, 4:22 PM), https://www.cnn.com/2016/06/30/health/americans-screen-time-nielsen/index.html.
  2. See Alex C. Madrigal, “When Did TV Watching Peak?,” The Atlantic (May 30, 2018), https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/05/when-did-tv-watching-peak/561464/.
  3. See Charles Hymas, “A Decade of Smartphones: We Now Spend an Entire Day Every Week Online,” The Daily Telegraph (Aug. 2, 2018, 12:01 AM), https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/08/01/decade-smartphones-now-spend-entire-day-every-week-online/.
  4. Id.
  5. See Lawyrence S. Krieger & Kennon M. Sheldon, “What Makes Lawyers Happy? Transcending the Anecdotes with Data from 200 Lawyers”, 83 Geo. Wash. U. L. Rev. 554 (2015); see also Rosa Flores & Rose Marie Arce, “Why Are Lawyers Killing Themselves?,” CNN (Jan. 20, 2014, 2:42 PM), https://www.cnn.com/2014/01/19/us/lawyer-suicides/index.html.
  6. See William Eaton, et al., “Occupations and the Prevalence of Major Depressive Disorder,” 32 J. Occupational Med. 1079, 1085 tbl. 3 (1990).
  7. Id.
  8. See Mohamed Farouk Allam, “Letter to the Editor, Excessive Internet Use and Depression: Cause-Effect Bias?,” 43 Psychopathology 5 (2010).
  9. See Helmut Appel, Jan Crusius & Alexander L. Gerlach, “Social Comparison, Envy, and Depression on Facebook: A Study Looking at the Effects of High Comparison Standards on Depressed Individuals,” 34 J. of Social and Clinical Psychology 4, 277-289 (2015).
  10. See L.D. Rosen, et al., “Is Facebook Creating ‘iDisorders’? The Link Between Clinical Symptoms of Psychiatric Disorders and Technology Use, Attitudes and Anxiety,” 29 Computers in Human Behavior 1243-1254 (2013).
  11. See Ben Spencer, “Mobile users can’t leave their phone alone for six minutes and check it up to 150 times a day,” The Daily Mail (Feb. 10, 2013, 2:49 PM), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2276752/Mobile-users-leave-phone-minutes-check-150-times-day.html.
  12. See C.S. Andreassen, T. Torsheim, G.S. Brunborg & S. Pallesen, “Development of a Facebook Addiction Scale,” 110 Psychological Reports 2, 501-517 (2012).
  13. See Aaron Smith, “How Americans Use Text Messaging,” Pew Research Center Internet & Technology (Sept. 19 2011), https://www.pewinternet.org/2011/09/19/how-americans-use-text-messaging/.
  14. See Kenneth Burke, “How Many Texts Do People Send Every Day (2018)?,” Text Request (November 2018), https://www.textrequest.com/blog/how-many-texts-people-send-per-day/.
  15. See Melissa G. Hung, Rachel Marx, Courtney Lipson & Jordyn Young, “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression,” 37 J. of Social and Clinical Psychology 10, 751-768 (2018).