Why mental health matters

“No one is immune and most of us cannot cope alone.” How can we maintain positive mental health? LawCare’s Ann Charlton shared her insight and tips.

The legal profession is the third most stressful, according to the Health and Safety Executive. Only midwives and health professionals have more stressful jobs.

It has never been more important to look after yourself. 

Ann, a former lawyer now working for legal charity LawCare, told delegates that “as lawyers we identify ourselves as problem solvers. But we also live lives dominated by high expectations and multiple demands”.

“It is so important for living a longer, healthier and happier life that you look after your wellbeing and mental health is a big part of this,” Ann was keen to point out. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as a “state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

“There is a large difference between mental heath and mental illness”, Ann told our conference audience in London. 

Stress, for example, is not classed as a mental illness, but stress affects your mental health. Conditions such as psychosis and schizophrenia are mental illnesses. 

Stress is common in the legal profession and Ann reiterated that it is nothing to be ashamed of. “We are often convinced that any admission of the stress our lives generate is a sign of weakness that will undermine everything we strive to be”.

According to the NHS 65% of people who are off work have stress related illnesses. These can range from alopecia to stroke and heart disease. 

Managing relationships

Ann’s talk kept referring back to relationships – they are vital to our wellbeing. 

She said: “Relationship are crucial to you – it is absolutely paramount to your wellbeing if you want to live longer and be healthier that you have good supportive relationships both at home and at work.

“If those relationships are negative they will drain your mental and physical resource.,

“It is important that you take personal responsibility, you have a duty to yourselves, to those 
you love and to those you work with you look after yourselves.” 

Recognising stress

You need to recognise your stress triggers. When you recognise these signs, you can start to change things Ann said. 

“Pressure is good for us, but it must be at a manageable level. But you must be able to control the level and intervene when it gets a bit too much, recognising your stress triggers. 

“Organisations have a wellbeing duty. It is very important that they create an environment where people can achieve their best and perform at their best.”

Classic stress symptoms 

  • Changes in behaviour
  • Getting less work done
  • Deterioration in relationships
  • Accident prone
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Increase in smoking, drinking, eating etc.

Never be afraid to go and see your GP, was a key message from Ann. 

Feeling stressed?

Do something about it. Talk to someone, said Ann. 

Ann quoted Chief Justice Christine Durham, Utah State Bench who said: “No one is immune and most of us cannot cope alone.”  

“There is a lot less stigma about this now compared to even ten years ago. Go and speak to your manager or someone you trust. Call LawCare or another helpline.

“LawCare is confidential and is under no duty to tell any professional organisations. It was set up by the profession for the profession.” 

How to manage your stress

  • Work out a quick break /fire break that works for you to relieve immediate pressure
  • Take a minute of “me time” if you are feeling under pressure
  • Take a break – mid-morning, lunch and mid-afternoon on as many days as possible 
  • Take back control

Time management; keeping a positive mental attitude – think positive and don’t dwell on mistakes, learn from them; and supporting yourself by getting a good night’s sleep as well as maintaining fitness and eating well are all important factors in managing your stress and improving wellbeing. 

LawCare is the charity that promotes and supports good mental health and wellbeing across the legal community in the UK and Ireland.  

CITMA supports LawCare and we contribute financially to its running. This allows CITMA members to contact LawCare and access its network of peer supporters for free. 

Its confidential helpline is a safe place to talk without judgement. They are there to help 365 days a year, with calls answered by trained staff and volunteers who have first-hand experience of working in the law.

Life in the law can be tough. If you need to talk call the free, independent and confidential helpline on 0800 279 6888 or find information, support and factsheets at www.lawcare.org.uk

 

Download Ann's presentation slides