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Trending: Let’s talk about mental health

Added on the 9th Mar 2018 at 10:33 am
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Since leaving Gleneagles Hotel at the end of February I’ve had barely any time to write about our GlenLegal conference because I’ve been immersed helping a close friend who has had a psychotic breakdown. Why am I sharing that with you here? Let me explain.

My friend – let’s call her Kate – is an exceptionally smart ex-lawyer and ‘high achiever’ who, I suspect in common with many sufferers of mental health problems, doesn’t like to talk about mental health.

She only told me she had depression last year. On a personal note, it was a relief to find out because it explained things that I had previously blamed myself for – awkwardness and a feeling of tension in our conversations, fleeting visits that ended with me wondering if it was something I’d said, and some more erratic behaviour that was, well ‘that’s just Kate.’ If that rings true of someone in your work or personal life, it should possibly also ring some alarms bells.

This year there’s been more of the erratic. Then about a month ago Kate – who was not working as a lawyer at the time – got fired, triggering a downward spiral that culminated in her thinking that the government is trying to kill her, her house is bugged, her radio and TV have been hacked, that a paedophile ring is relaying threatening messages to her, and that her children are at risk. A major psychotic breakdown triggered by stress. It is far from over.

I’ve had plenty of chance to reflect on what I personally could have done differently and the one thing I’d say and why I’m sharing this with you, is that I failed to notice many of the signs of stress because I was simply too busy: a state of being that’s endemic in the high pressure environment we all work in.

Even within firms and companies that try to be supportive of stress and mental health issues, the fast-moving culture conspires against us. We are so busy at work that we often don’t have enough time for lunch, let alone to take a few minutes to ask if that colleague, employee or friend really need to talk.

What’s more, many of us are still deeply uncomfortable even acknowledging mental health issues. You would phone your boss to say you’re off sick with a cold, but how many of you would say you’re feeling low and need 24 hours to rest? There is still a fear – rightly or wrongly, and I suspect rightly – that it will interpreted as a sign of weakness.

I am anything but an expert but I’d argue that with stress and mental ill-health now the top reasons for long term sickness, it falls to every employer to create a top-down culture where depression and stress no longer equate to weakness. And where every employee is actively encouraged, no matter how busy they are, to make the time for colleagues or friends who are exhibiting signs of stress. Trust me, it may save you countless hours down the line.

So please, take a few minutes, look around you, perhaps have a group chat about mental health and how the door is always open to anyone who feels vulnerable. Mine is a personal story, but if by acknowledging our own shortcomings and sharing our own experiences we can help even one person, it’s worth it.

Here are some links you may find useful, including the details of The Legal Professions Wellbeing Taskforce, which was initiated by the Law Society of England and Wales and is driven by LawCare, a charity which provides support to the legal community:

http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/blog/five-steps-to-wellbeing/

https://www.lawcare.org.uk/

http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/blog/stress-and-the-legal-profession/

http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/policy-campaigns/articles/mental-health-awareness-week-2016/

https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/stories/legal-professions-wellbeing-taskforce/

And don’t forget Mind (see comment below), which come into organisations to talk about mental health: https://www.mind.org.uk

If you want to flag any other useful resources, please comment below or contact me direct.

caroline.hill@liti.co.uk

7 Comments

  1. Annette Corbett says:

    Thanks for sharing this Caroline. Having suffered from anxiety in the past, I can say it is an intensely personal and private experience by virtue of, both its stigma, and the bizarre nature of its outputs, many of which you have described as part of your friend’s experience above. Who could possibly relate to that, right? I have yet to work in a culture where staff would be comfortable attending in-house mental wellness clinics; we have a long way to go before that can be a viable option sadly. I know Mind come into organisations and talk about mental health (currently a six month waiting list!) so embedding a link to their website on the company intranet as part of a firmwide commitment to eradicating the stigma of mental health might go some of the way. Meditation classes in the workplace would work well as it is a holistic practice rather than focused on those with mental health struggles. As you rightly say it is important to notice changes in a friend’s or colleague’s behaviour too and consider whether there might be an underlying struggle. As the tentacles of stress, anxiety and mental imbalance reach ever further, it is important to be kind to one another – we are totally in this together.

  2. Caroline Hill says:

    Thank you Annette, I really appreciate your observations and good point re embedding a link to Mind – signing up to their mental health talks would be a good start. Link added.

  3. Rob Stephenson says:

    Great article Caroline,

    I am many others are campaigning to break the stigma of mental ill-health in the workplace. You make a very good point in that the momentum needs to come from the top down.

    We also need more role models at the Partner level. People like the wonderful Samantha Brown at HSF for example.

    I personally experience bipolar disorder and feel liberated since deciding to be open about it. I am working hard on a social project called InsideOut that encourages others to do the same.

    • Caroline Hill says:

      Thank you Rob. I’d love to hear more about InsideOut, please email me and perhaps I can help you promote the work you’re doing.

  4. Andy Stokes says:

    These types of things can affect virtually anyone, either long or short term, to some degree or another – and yes I include myself, it’s affected me in the past though in a minor and short term way.

    It is very good to see that the legal profession is starting to acknowledge and address such issues, attempting to remove the stigma of something that affects many, many people. I genuinely laud their efforts.

    But too often I see actions within law firms that are deleterious to mental health. If people were asked to file their matter documentation on a top shelf using a wobbly ladder on wonky wheels then quite rightly it would be raised as a physical health and safety issue.
    Yet all too often the good intensions towards mental health are undermined by the ‘drive to profit’ – the continuously long beastly hours, making people redundant when it’s not necessary other than to put a little more cash in Partners pockets, the rain maker who is allowed to mentally (and otherwise) abuse others.

    So, is this change merely lip service driven by the wish for good PR, or is it genuine? I suspect a little of both.
    But it won’t be truly addressed until Partnerships say to themselves …
    “Actions that are bad for our staff mental health must be addressed in the same way as we protect their physical well being, and the mental well being of all of our staff is worth a couple of percentage points off our bottom line”

  5. Harry says:

    Aside from the fact that our type of work could become very stressful, I think your point about having work environment that is supportive and uplifting, makes a world of difference.

    The value in a positive mindset of associates is huge. Finding yourself in a stressful situation because of an upcoming case or challenges at home, should not be your solo battle against the dark side. Your colleagues are your support team and if they are not, I urge you to find a new place to work. Personal injury can happen to your emotional state, it is not limited to physical. https://www.lajewishlawyer.com/

  6. Caroline Hill says:

    Great feedback, thank you both. Keep your comments coming and if we can use our platform to help continue the mental health dialogue get in touch.

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