The legal sector is facing a ‘mental health crisis’ with many professionals struggling to cope with long hours, low pay and workplace bullying, a trade union has warned.

Legal Sector Workers United (LSWU), formed to represent solicitors and barristers as well as paralegals, clerks, trainees and administrative staff, said the results of a recent mental health survey of its members are ‘shocking’.

The survey of around 300 workers found that 71% of respondents said their job had a negative impact on their mental health, with 59% saying it was their single greatest mental health stressor – which the LSWU said was ‘a damning indictment of the operation of many employers’.

The union said 219 people reported struggling to cope with long hours and overwork, 122 cited low pay and 113 felt that ‘the relentless pressure to bill and meet targets’ was having a negative impact on their mental health.

Around one in six said bullying had caused their mental health to worsen and just over a third reported suffering from vicarious trauma.

The responses to the survey also suggested that employers are ‘endemically unable to offer the support that might help staff to recover’, the LSWU said, with a quarter of all workplaces ‘offering no mental health support at all’.

Almost three-quarters of respondents said they would not feel comfortable asking for time off for mental health reasons and just over half feared that disclosing mental health concerns would ‘adversely impact their career progression’.

The LSWU said workplaces should offer counselling or therapy for staff, as well as ‘no reason necessary’ mental health days, and recommended a ‘concerted effort to reduce the stigma associated with mental health problems’.

Isaac Ricca-Richardson, LSWU’s communications secretary, said: ‘While we expected that the results wouldn’t be pretty, we were shocked by the extent and severity of the mental health crisis facing the legal sector. Unless bosses take real action, and soon, their staff will be at risk of burnout, breakdown, or leaving the sector altogether.’

Mary-Rachel McCabe, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, said the results of the survey were ‘a stark reminder of just how much work there is to be done to address the toxic “work until you drop” culture in the legal profession’.