Mental Health Awareness in Law firms

Mental Health in Law, Legal recruitment Manchester
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Over the past year, a hot topic for conversation has been mental health. As someone who is fortunately unfamiliar with mental health issues and depression, this year we’ve seen an increasing number of celebrities revealing their mental health experiences. The long list includes Italian Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, Premier League footballer Aaron Lennon and former Heavyweight Champion boxer Tyson Fury. Six weeks ago, the tragic news of the death of 28 year old DJ Avicii (Tim Bergling) which was reportedly by suicide highlights the ultimate dangers of stress, depression and mental health issues.

 

Mental Health Awareness Week

The Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May 2018) was hosted by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) and the aim was to tackle stress, which is so often one of the causes of mental health issues.

The MHF conducted what is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive stress survey ever carried out across the UK with 4,619 people surveyed. Some of the astonishing results are listed below:

74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

32% of adults said they had experienced suicidal feelings as a result of stress

16% of adults said they had self-harmed as a result of stress.

 

The stress of being a lawyer

Whilst I am not and never have been a lawyer, having worked closely with countless lawyers in legal recruitment over the past 6 years and having family and friends who are solicitors, I have a fairly good understanding of the job and demands that come with it.

Law as a profession can be very rewarding (both personally and professionally) but it can also be a very stressful, highly demanding and pressured career. Like many high-pressured jobs, at times it can be a high paced environment where clients always come first, unfortunately at the cost of staff/colleague’s health and happiness.

In 2017 the ‘workplace’ theme of World Mental Health Day shone a light on how employers can do more to translate increased awareness of mental health into action. With nearly 75% of junior lawyers believing their firm can do more to support mental health in the workplace, this is undoubtedly an urgent issue for the legal industry.

One law firm who have been training staff in Mental Health First Aid skills is Magic Circle Law Firm Slaughter and May. Introducing Mental Health First Aid training is just one of the steps they’re taking to provide a mentally healthy workplace.

Katie Gledhill, Head of HR Advisory and Resourcing, Slaughter and May says: “We work in a high-performance culture to deliver the very best service for all our clients. Working in the legal sector is challenging yet rewarding and mental health is something we cannot afford to ignore. Since September 2016, we’ve trained ten of our HR staff as Mental Health First Aiders with a view to widening access to further mental health training over the next year.”

 

LawCare

For those of you who don’t know, LawCare is a registered charity and was founded in 1997. Their vision is of a legal community that values, promotes and supports good mental health and wellbeing. 

They support and promote good mental health and wellbeing in the legal community throughout the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and Jersey. Their mission is to help the legal community with personal or professional concerns that may be affecting their mental health and wellbeing, and to promote understanding of how and when to seek help, without fear or stigma.

They help all branches of the legal profession: solicitors, barristers, barrister’s clerks, judges, legal executives, paralegals, trade mark attorneys, patent agents, costs lawyers and their staff and families. Their support spans the legal life from student to training to practice and retirement.

LawCare reported an 11% increase in callers to 616 last year, with workplace stress still topping the table of reasons for unhappiness. Three-quarters of callers (76%) were solicitors.

Chief executive Elizabeth Rimmer said the increase in callers was the result of “greater awareness about mental health” among lawyers.

Workplace stress was cited as the main reason for contacting to LawCare by 27% of callers, followed by depression (17%), disciplinary concerns (8%), anxiety (7%), bereavement (7%), financial problems (4%) and bullying and harassment (4%).

Ms Rimmer said knowledge of LawCare was still quite low in the legal profession, with figures obtained by the Law Society through the PC renewal process showing that only 26% of solicitors knew it existed.

 

Conclusion

Whilst people are gaining more of an understanding of the severity of mental health issues, I believe that even though mental health awareness is improving, clearly there still isn’t enough support or guidance offered to the majority of employees.

I believe law firms need to protect and look after their staff by:

  • Identifying the sources of destructive stress and find a way to reduce them
  • Ensuring help exists internally or externally and is easily accessible
  • Promoting and informing staff that help exists and ensure they know they will be supported
  • Training staff on how best to identify early signs of stress or depression
  • Following up this training with how best to respond to a colleague who either asks for help, or one who you suspect may be struggling.

 

If you are in the legal profession and struggling at work or home, or could do with speaking to someone, please contact LawCare confidentially on 0800 279 6888.