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Mental Health Matters

We all have mental health, just as we have physical health. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, and affects how we think, feel, and act.

Research shows that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem in a year. And the legal community is no exception. Many legal professionals are reluctant to talk openly about mental health in work, for fear they may be perceived as weak or not coping with the demands of their role. Lawyers are used to helping others with problems, and can find it hard to admit that they may have a problem themselves and seek help.

At LawCare we want legal organisations to positively address mental health in the workplace, but it’s not always easy to recognise the signs that you or someone you work with is experiencing a mental health problem. These are common ones to look out for:

  • Out-of-character behaviour such as irritability, mood swings, anger or short temper
  • Lack of energy, concentration and motivation
  • Bouts of illness
  • Sleeping problems
  • Panic attacks: these include feeling sick, short of breath, shaking, sweating
  • Failure to achieve targets
  • Overconfidence despite making mistakes
  • Withdrawal from social interaction and hobbies
  • Deteriorating relationships with managers and/or colleagues
  • Increasing use of alcohol

A combination of these behaviours could mean the person is experiencing a mental health concern, and signal that it’s time to seek help, support and information.

For any organisation looking to implement mental health and wellbeing programmes, there is plenty of information and support available. The Law Society and the Bar Council are engaged with improving mental health and wellbeing in the legal profession, and the Bar Council recently launched a dedicated website, ‘Wellbeing at the Bar’, with a wealth of resources.

Firms and chambers are also beginning to raise awareness of mental health issues. Several firms participate in the ‘This is Me’ campaign, launched by the Lord Mayor of London last year. It is a platform for employees who have experienced mental health problems to share their stories. People’s attitudes, understanding and behavior towards others with mental health issues are more likely to change positively if they learn about it from someone who has experienced them.

Some legal organisations are training their staff as mental health first aiders. The Mental Health First Aid England training course teaches people how to identify, understand and help a person who may be developing a mental health issue. The programme was developed in Australia in 2000, and is now recognised in 23 countries.

We need to come together as a legal community, to raise awareness and understanding of mental health, in order to create healthier and more supportive working environments for lawyers. Although attitudes are changing, the fact remains that many people feel unable to raise mental health problems at work, and we need to do something about this.

It is important that the legal charities, LawCare and the SBA, continue to work closely together to promote the support that is available to solicitors in England and Wales, as not enough lawyers know about the help, services and information that we provide. We want all solicitors to know that we are here and working in partnership will support our efforts to achieve this.

Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO, LawCare


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