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Putting mental wellbeing on the agenda in the legal profession

Posted by: Laurence Simons 23/03/16

Mental health can be a difficult subject to discuss, but in a profession with notoriously demanding working environments, it certainly shouldn’t be struck off the agenda. New research from a doctorate student at the University of Queensland indicates that private practice lawyers experience the lowest levels of psychological and psychosomatic health, and have the highest instance of substance abuse of any professionals.

President of the South Australian Law Society David Caruso commented “The research indicates that several factors contribute to lawyers experiencing psychological issues, such as high workloads, a stressful work environment, demanding clients and having to regularly deal with grim subject matter.”

Caruso suggested that professionals in smaller firms may be at higher risk as they may not have access to the resources and support on offer at larger firms. He noted that while there has been significant ground made in terms of supporting disabilities in the profession a stigma remains around mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

He also noted that promoting wellness programs provided by both external bodies and internal HR departments is key to catalysing systematic change. Increased awareness will help to expedite a shift towards greater understanding and acceptance of mental illness in the profession, which will ultimately help to retain top law talent.

The report calls upon HR professionals to monitor employee, attendance, attitudes and job performance components rather than focusing on task related goals – however all legal professionals all levels should be aware of the prevalence of mental health problems in the profession.  And with statistics from leading mental health charity, Mind, indicating that 1 in 4 people suffer from mental health problem every year, it’s evident that a culture of greater transparency and acceptance needs to be fostered to support those suffering from illnesses that aren’t visible to the eye.