Mental Health – the fight for resilience and awareness in the legal profession
The British professional, a modern warrior in a world of geo-political uncertainty, digital reliance and a cacophony of pernicious workplace pressures. At least we can always rely on the weather…
The research is in, the reconnaissance done, and there is still a long fight ahead. We are spending more time at work than anywhere else and, even when we’re away from the desk, technological advances are making it easier and easier for the office to come to us. For many professionals battling to do more with less the workplace is becoming an increasingly stressful environment and those in the legal profession are on the front lines.
Studies show that work-related stress and burnout is the number one cause of ill health and sickness absence in the legal profession. Some low-level symptoms manifest as reduced efficiency, fatigue, headaches and irritability. Without a supportive environment the battle-weary can develop more serious problems. Some recognised consequences of severe stress include substance self-medication, debilitating self-doubt, anxiety and a variety of other mental health issues. Unfortunately, year after year, the statistics show a higher prevalence of these struggles among employees in our industry than to most other professions. It is more important than ever, therefore, to be courageous and:
engage in open and honest discussions about the realities of mental health issues aggravated by workplace stress;
be mindful of your personal limits, ways to build resilience and ways to reduce stress;
to seek help when you need it and respect those who need yours; and
take proactive steps to build a positive, supportive and open culture within the workplace and the legal community at large.
The struggles of stress and burnout are, reportedly, most potent among junior lawyers. I doubt this comes as much of a surprise to most when considering their relative inexperience alongside the desire to prove themselves in a competitive labour market. This is only exacerbated where there is a lack of regard for ‘soft skills’, resilience and emotional strength at the education, recruitment and continuous professional development stages.
The JLD’s recent resilience and wellbeing survey highlighted some of the many challenges of this particular cohort including high workload and client demands/ expectations. For me the most notable factor respondents identified, however, is the lack of supportive management as the conduct of line-managers and supervisors is so important in building a sustainable positive culture.
As a junior lawyer myself I have, of course, experienced my fair share of stress but I have been blessed to be part of a great firm and work alongside some inspiring lawyers. With experience as a carer, a helpline counsellor and a peer support leader, however, I have seen, first-hand, that there is no room for complacency with stress and mental health. It is for this reason I have been appointed as the Wellbeing Officer for the Junior Lawyers Division of Cardiff and South East Wales. We at the JLD have organised some great events during Mental Health Awareness Week commencing Monday 13th May including a panel discussion and a breakfast seminar. They are sure to be exciting and insightful and I hope to see you there. To promote lasting progress around Cardiff and South East Wales we are also launching an alliance called Gofal yn y Gyfraith / Care in Law which invites firms to commit towards a vision of openness and support. I would encourage all firms that recognise the importance of mental health to get involved.
As a final note I would like to emphasise that, despite the serious nature of this topic, it is not all doom and gloom. The legal profession is a community to be proud of. Alongside the challenges of recent years there has been greater awareness of the issues, more research and more initiatives to address mental health in our industry than ever before. It can boast a membership of some of the finest minds the UK has to offer and together I have no doubt that we will continue to make progress here as colleagues, as warriors and as allies.