Mental Health Awareness Week 2024

13 May 2024

This week (13 May 2024 to 19 May 2024) is Mental Health Awareness Week.

According to Mind.org.uk, every year 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health problems.  It is sad to say that such a statistic will not be a surprise to many who battle mental health problems on a daily basis.

It is widely known and accepted that the legal profession is a particularly stressful arena in which to work.  Many lawyers turn up to work in the morning with overwhelming workloads and demanding clients (and opponents) for whom those lawyers are sometimes their only outlet.  There will also be cases which are emotionally challenging (particularly in the family sector), and in those circumstances it is a case of pushing your own emotions aside to ensure that you are able to provide the best, impartial and practical advice to your client.

We see a lot online about supporting your (and others') mental health, but many posts are limited to an inspiring quote or a catchy hashtag – not much help when your emails are flashing up on your screen reminding you that you just have to get that piece of work out today. 

In such an environment, how can you ensure that you are prioritising your health, so that in turn you may provide the best level of service to your clients?  While an inspirational LinkedIn quote may resonate with you and make you feel better in the short term, in my experience, real change starts with action.  A few actions points that you can incorporate into your busy everyday life are listed below.  Not all of these suggestions will work for everyone, and we have to use trial and error to find what works best.

  • Take regular breaks.  This applies during working hours and non-working hours.  Take regular drink breaks and step away from your desk.  Even taking just 5 minutes away (perhaps to get some fresh air) will make a difference and help you to reset.  Outside of work, try to take all of your annual leave entitlement and engage in those activities, hobbies or pastimes which will leave you recharged and ready to return to work.
  • Boundaries.  Set boundaries with your time schedule and block out periods of time for yourself.  This could be in the form of turning your work phone off when you are away from the office. 

An example of a boundary within working hours could be to say you are unable to take any more work on when you are at full capacity – it is better for everyone to set realistic expectations rather than take too much on and not be able to perform and then fail to meet expectations.

  • Movement.  I would be remiss not to mention movement, given that it is this year's theme of Mental Health Awareness Month.  It is well established that being active is important for both our mental and physical health.   Obviously, the level of movement will depend upon you and what you enjoy doing.  I am not suggesting that we all sign up for a half marathon any time soon but perhaps consider trying a new sport or activity.  If sports are not your thing, you can always incorporate more movement in simple ways, such as deciding to go for a walk on a more regular basis, perhaps even walking (or cycling) to the office if you are able.
  • Make a change!  If you are not in a supportive environment and do not receive the support you need to perform your role, then you may need to consider if you are in the best place for you to work, and if you would perhaps thrive elsewhere.  All businesses, including law firms, should no longer be ignorant to the importance of good mental health.

Closer to home, Wilsons have encouraged or implemented various practices to create a positive and supporting environment to promote good mental health, which include the following: 1) regular mental health catch up coffee mornings, 2) work social clubs and other events to encourage employees to take a break and talk (i.e. craft clubs), 3) participation in events such as rounders, cricket, football and group walking, 4) training up designated mental health first aiders, and 5) subscribing the firm to a comprehensive employee assistance programme and publishing helpful materials which are available to all employees all of the time.

I by no means purport to be an expert in the above matters.I merely offer comments as a junior lawyer in what can be a rather stressful profession at times.I am fortunate to be in a very supportive, people-centred environment where colleagues at all levels prioritise and promote good mental health.

If you are struggling, or if you know someone who might be having difficulties, the best first step is to talk to someone.In this regard I have linked various resources below.

Mind

Information and support - Mind

Law Society

Helplines for Solicitors - Helplines for solicitors | The Law Society

Samaritans

Telephone line: Call 116 123 (open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year)

Email: jo@samaritans.org

Samaritans

Wellbeing in the Workplace - Wellbeing in the Workplace online learning | How we can help (samaritans.org)




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