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Stress in the courthouse

Stress in the Courthouse

May 13, 2020

A recent study in Australia found their judiciary suffers greater psychological distress than lawyers or the general public. Released contemporaneously with the suicide of two Australian judges, the study found one-third of the judges and magistrates surveyed presented with moderate to severe secondary traumatic stress, with half of the respondents reporting difficulty sleeping. In addition, three-quarters of the Australian judges and magistrates reported some level of burn-out.

Judicial stress is not unique to the Australians, which is why the National Center for State Courts, along with the State Justice Institute, addressed judicial well-being in their report, Elements of Judicial Excellence: A Framework to Support the Judicial Development of State Trial Courts. Relying on input from judges and experts, the report puts forth a framework for limiting and addressing the stress of sitting on the bench. The report notes managing judicial stress is not just the responsibility of the individual judge but requires a local court culture that supports the efforts necessary to develop and practice preventative and protective self-care. The court must support using vacation time, sick leave and encourage judges to seek assistance when their well-being is compromised.

It is important judges and jurisdictions realize there is not a one size fits all experience of judicial stress. For example, vicarious trauma may be an issue for criminal, family, and juvenile judges. On the other hand, problem-solving court judges may feel more connected to those who appear before them, creating an emotionally challenging situation when the offender fails, whereas traveling judges may feel isolated. And what about new judges? They may be shocked by the lifestyle changes and the need to distance themselves from former associates to maintain judicial impartiality.

Elements of Judicial Excellence includes common sense and practical tips to help judges manage stress:

  • Participate in formal or informal activities with judicial colleagues
  • Build and maintain relationships with those who are not part of the judiciary
  • Eat well, get enough sleep, exercise, take vacation, and develop hobbies, in addition to other stress preventative and coping methods

To share how you or your court are handling judicial stress follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest and share your experiences.

For more information on this or other topics impacting state courts, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.