Oct 21, 2019

How Mental Health Issues Are Important To Lawyers | Amenze Precious



Mental health issues in the legal profession are often ignored, stigmatized, and untreated. This not only leads to poorer quality of life for lawyers and their families, it is a contributing cause of many malpractice claims.

At least once a year there are people who will struggle with mental illnesses such as depression, severe anxiety, or stress disorders. This is even more common among lawyers. 

Not only are lawyers likely to suffer from mental illness than the public at large, but lawyers with higher paying and higher status jobs are more likely to self-report depression and poor health than lawyers with lower-status positions. The health consequences of poor mental health are wide-ranging and often serious. But the consequences to a lawyer’s legal practice and their colleagues’ practices can also be severe. Poor mental health has been linked to an inability to meet deadlines, respond to client communications, and complete important tasks. If unaddressed, lawyers and their colleagues can suddenly find themselves facing a large cluster of malpractice claims stemming from breakdowns in a lawyer’s mental health.

Thankfully, there are things that every lawyer can do to promote mental health within themselves and their coworkers - 

1) promote mental health resources for lawyers; Building a healthy workplace is a team effort. Lawyers, staff, and management can all choose to be open about the importance of mental health and encourage one another to lead healthy lifestyles. Senior lawyers and management can set an example by taking advantage of lifestyle or health benefits, such as going to the gym, 

2) Encouraging positive communication on mental health ; Lawyers and support staff can be trained to look for signs of temporary or chronic physical or mental health problems. An assistant may be best situated to know if certain files are being left to linger or a lawyer is not responding to calls or important correspondence. But these warning signs may be left unaddressed if the staff member feels that bringing these concerns to others will make the problem worse or be seen as an attack on the struggling lawyer. Building a positive culture that responds to stress and mental health problems without judgment can prevent dangerous silence as claims pile up unbeknownst to colleagues.

3) implement a notification policy; In both smaller and larger firms, management can ensure that it is notified whenever a claim is made against an associate or a potential claim is discovered. Inquiries can be made at that time as to whether this claim is symptomatic of larger problems, such as excessive workload or mental health issues, and steps can then be taken to assist the lawyer.

Effective treatment for mental illness, often requires a multifaceted approach that includes medication, cognitive therapy, peer support, dietary changes and sleep. 

adequate sleep as an important key to wellness, and one that is often overlooked.

Well lawyers are prototypes in suffering from mental health problems .
The mental health crisis that has struck hard at the legal profession will not be fixed until the issues of mental health are adequately addressed in the general population across the nation.

WAYS TO TACKLE THE LEGAL PROFESSION MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS.

Recent years have witnessed a growing concern internationally in wellbeing and mental health in the legal community. Far from being the legal profession’s ‘hidden secret’ .

There is much evidence that significant problems exist around wellbeing for many lawyers who appear to be ‘surviving but not thriving’. It is not, however, possible to generalise about the causes and consequences of lawyer distress. There is no one ‘wellbeing problem’ within the legal profession, 
The wellbeing concerns of the corporate lawyer, ‘high street’ and sole practitioner, barrister, law centre and legal aid solicitor, for example, are by no means the same; nor, importantly, are the resources and structures that are increasingly being put in place to support lawyer wellbeing, with marked differences between large and small organisations. Factors seen as contributing to poor lawyer wellbeing differ across areas of practice, law firms and at the bar, and do not easily translate to the experiences of law students or legal academics. The pressures associated with client demands, concerns around vicarious trauma and, in particular, the impact of the organisation and form of billing of much legal work, the focus of especial concern, are more acute in some areas of law than others. Yet, digging deeper, core themes do tend to recur; the prevalence across the legal community of a pervasive stigma. 

around disclosure of mental health problems; concern about the highly competitive culture of law, poor work-life balance and, for many lawyers, long hours; the ‘personality attributes’ and characteristics of those who enter and teach law, involving ideas about a profession replete with ‘insecure overachievers’, widespread ‘imposter syndrome’ and tendencies towards perfectionism; concerns about a lack of line-manager training in dealing with mental health matters when they do arise; for some lawyers, the impact of corrosive and uncivil workplace cultures, bullying, discrimination and harassment. 

This raises troubling questions about how the ‘good lawyer’ is often positioned as someone who will, or should, respond to seemingly ever greater work demands, to time-pressures, billing targets, the impact of new technologies and so on, by better attending to their own personal wellbeing — by becoming resilient. The problem is that this can easily mask the long-term consequences of working at a level of ‘peak performance’ that these cultures bring about in people (as these recent accounts of poor wellbeing testify); how far from seeing resilience as something called upon in exceptional circumstances, it can be seen as a ‘baseline’ requirement in ways that reinforce what are, at the end of the day, still viewed as highly desirable traits in the profession (the ability to work long hours, say, to work without apparent caring commitments, or to be ‘careless’, to see oneself, and be seen by others, as a competitive individual). 

What is mental health stigma? Mental health stigma can be divided into two distinct types: social stigma is characterized by prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behaviour directed towards individuals with mental health problems as a result of the psychiatric label they have been given. In contrast, perceived stigma or self-stigma is the internalizing by the mental health sufferer of their perceptions of discrimination .

perceived stigma can significantly affect feelings of shame and lead to poorer treatment outcomes.

(1) the most commonly held belief was that people with mental health problems were dangerous – especially those with schizophrenia, alcoholism and drug dependence, 

(2) respondents believed that people with mental health problems were generally hard to talk to. 

(3) people believed that some mental health problems such as eating disorders and substance abuse were self inflicted.

People tended to hold these negative beliefs regardless of their age, regardless of what knowledge they had of mental health problems, and regardless of whether they knew someone who had a mental health problem. More recent studies of attitudes to individuals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or major depression convey similar findings. In both cases, a significant proportion of members of the public considered that people with mental health problems such as depression or schizophrenia were unpredictable, dangerous and they would be less likely to employ someone with a mental health problem.

Most people who live with mental illness have, at some point, been blamed for their condition. They’ve been called names. Their symptoms have been referred to as “a phase” or something they can control “if they only tried.” They have been illegally discriminated against, with no justice. This is the unwieldy power that stigma holds.

Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain. And while stigma has reduced in recent years, the pace of progress has not been quick enough.

- Talk Openly About Mental Health
- Educate Yourself And Others
- Be Conscious Of Language
- Encourage Equality Between Physical And Mental Illness
- Show Compassion For Those With Mental Illness
- Choose Empowerment Over Shame
Don’t Harbor Self-Stigma

By: Amenze Precious 
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