Mental Health in the Law Profession
During the last five to ten years there’s been enormous progress made in how people who suffer with mental health issues are regarded and treated by those around them. Stigma that is associated with such illnesses is fading as society is becoming more open to discussion of conditions such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD, and sufferers are becoming more willing to be open about their illness with family and friends, and with mental healthcare professionals.
The legal profession, globally, is worse than most industries in terms of the mental health of those working in it. An April 2021 study by the International Bar Association concluded that the wellbeing of those working in the profession is cause for “global concern”, with over 50% of lawyers under the age of 30 experiencing some degree of depression, and 10% reporting that they’ve experienced thoughts of suicide. The study found that women, people of ethnic minorities, and lawyers with disabilities fare worse than other groups when struggling with work-related issues.
Previous studies have found that legal professionals who were struggling with mental health illness had turned to alcohol or recreational drugs as coping mechanisms. However, this recent study shows that people now develop healthy strategies when coping with their mental health problems, replacing ultimately destructive behaviours with activities such as yoga, meditation, spending time outdoors, and healthier eating habits.
Historically the legal profession has always been one in which competition is strong, where colleagues compete for career progression and firms face the challenges of generating new business. It is an unusual profession in that it’s often looking for negatives – problems, risks, downsides, mistakes – which can create negative states of mind if left unchecked.
Going forward, it is important that mental health issues are faced head-on, with leaders and senior team members setting an example by discussing the challenges they’ve faced during their careers. Paving the way for a cultural change is the key to helping those entering the profession to avoid such problems, while opening the door to support channels for those who are in need of help.
Encouraging people to think about their mental wellbeing can help identify the onset of problems early, thus making management of the situation easier. While people are often quite happy to spend time at a gym or in an exercise class to improve their physical health, one’s mental health is often overlooked. Apps, such as HeadSpace and Samaritans Self-Help offer free mood and emotional health monitoring. These apps require just a few minutes each day, and can help settle one’s mind after a long busy day, leading to better mental health habits if used regularly. Mind, the mental health charity, has a short piece that introduces mental health problems, explaining what to look for in oneself and others, as well as how to look for help.
It can seem that mental health is the illness of the moment. This is generally the case when raising awareness about specific conditions, and this apparent “en vogue” nature will change as we, as a society, become comfortable to discussing our mental health challenges with family, friends, and, eventually, colleagues.
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