At the urging of a commenter, I've spent time reviewing some of the literature on law students, lawyers, and depression. It makes for harrowing reading.
(1) Law students are no more prone to depression than anyone else before starting law school. In the course of law school they develop both clinical and sub-clinical depression at extraordinarily high rates, so that by the time they are 3Ls they are roughly ten times more likely to be in these categories than they were prior to entering law school.
(2) Rates of depression among practicing attorneys are also very high. For instance, a 1990 Johns Hopkins study looked at depression in 104 occupational groups. Lawyers ranked first.
(3) These findings are remarkably consistent across studies, and have remained so for several decades.
(4) Although there is as of yet little work on what effect recent changes in the legal profession are having on these outcomes, the primary environmental cause of depression appears to be stress, which suggests an already serious problem is likely to be getting worse.
Why are law students and lawyers so prone to develop depression? The literature suggests numerous causes, most of which have something to do with the effects of an intensely hierarchical, competitive, emotionally cold, and high-stress environment, in which people are socialized to obsess on external status markers and to minimize or ignore things such as learning for its own sake, doing intrinsically valuable work, and maintaining healthy personal relationships.
Consider what a 0L is supposed to consider most important about legal education:
(1) Getting into a top law school
(2) Getting top grades
(3) Getting a job at a top firm
There are two problems with these goals. First, the vast majority of law students will fail to achieve them, and will as a result be saddled with heavy educational debt and bad job prospects -- an inherently depressing combination. Second, and most interestingly, the few "winners" in this game appear to be just as prone to depression as the losers. Hierarchical and economic success in law has little correlation with increased happiness. Lawyers in Big Law are just as miserable as those outside it, although for somewhat different reasons.
The other consistent finding in this literature is that the one subgroup of lawyers who seem to do significantly better than average in regard to these issues are so-called "cause" lawyers: people who do the work they've taken on primarily for reasons other than money and status. (Naturally this finding leads law professors to implore their students to turn their backs on worldly things -- something that both the current financial structure of legal education and the changing economics of legal practice are making increasingly impossible for the great majority of law graduates).
Another striking thing about this literature is the legal academy's reaction to it. That reaction tends to be one of, in the words of Lawrence Krieger, one of "individual and institutional avoidance." Krieger is, as the subtitle of one of the articles he's published on this topic affirms, dedicated to "breaking the silence" about the relationship between legal education, the practice of law, and depression. If all this sounds familiar, so will the reactions Krieger has encountered from other legal academics, which include "it's just as bad in other professional education programs, people come to us that way, it's always been like this, it's the nature of the business, it's not as bad as you say, this requires further study before we do anything, I'm not trained to deal with this, it's somebody else's responsibility, and shut up already."
It's a cliche that crisis creates opportunity, but cliches exist because they embody important truths. The truth is that the employment and debt crisis which has been building for many years now among law graduates is creating an opportunity to re-examine and restructure a profession which in many ways needs to change from the ground up, if it is to stop becoming an increasingly efficient machine for producing human misery on a vast scale.