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The unseen cost of justice: post-traumatic stress symptoms in Canadian lawyers

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Limited research has been conducted on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5; 2013) exposure criterion: ‘work-related exposure to aversive details of traumatic events’. This study investigated the presence and severity of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomatology among a national cross-sectional sample of practicing Canadian lawyers (N = 476). Participants were categorized into three groups: no, moderate, and high work-related exposure to potentially traumatic material. As hypothesized, lawyers in the moderate and high work-related trauma exposure groups obtained more elevated (severe) mean scores of PTSD symptoms, psychological distress, and reported a poorer quality of life (p < .05) compared to their unexposed colleagues. An important proportion of lawyers scored above the clinical threshold for probable PTSD (9%), psychological distress (23%), and unsatisfactory quality of life (23%). Trauma-exposed lawyers were 2.62 times (95%CI: 1.12–6.12, p = .027) more likely to meet the probable PTSD threshold than the unexposed lawyers. Congruent with the DSM-5 reformulation of trauma exposure, lawyers exposed to aversive details of traumatic events are at increased risk of developing PTSD symptoms requiring an intervention. Future research using random sampling and face-to-face interviews should be conducted to further establish the human cost of this emerging problem.
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Keywords: PTSD; Trauma; law; lawyers; post-traumatic stress disorder

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, Montréal, Canada 2: Research Center, Douglas Mental Health University Institute, Montréal, Canada

Publication date: January 2, 2020

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