Lawyer’s Mental Health: 5 Ways to Get on the Right Track
Communications about mental health have become significantly more popular over the past few years, demonstrating how conscious and attentive we have become towards ourselves and others. However, mental health issues and the field of law are still topics that are rarely talked about. While lawyers solve problems for other people every day, we rarely talk about their concerns and challenges. In fact, lawyers often choose not to admit that there are any. At Lawrina, we decided to highlight the conversation of mental health and law by inviting speakers with expertise to our first webinar.
Why Lawyers Don’t Talk About Their Mental Health Issues
Admitting that you have an issue is hard enough as it is, but for lawyers it is typically harder due to the specifics of their profession. As a member of the steering committee for programming for the Institute for Well-Being in Law, Pamela DeNeuve knows how lawyers neglect their mental state in an effort to be the best in their profession. After several upsetting reports about mental health in the law profession were published, law firms started to take the issue seriously, however the lawyers rarely take advantage of available resources.
‘Law firms have provided resources inside the firms, but lawyers are not taking advantage of that. They are not going to someone inside the firm and saying ‘I am depressed’ or ‘I am anxious’. It is a big secret. Even the clients I work with often say ’I don’t want anyone to know’ or ‘Don’t send anything to my work email’. There is a lot of shame and stigma [surrounding mental health], and that refers to lawyers across the board, because it starts generally with the training in law school that leads to this competitive nature and to feeling that they need to be the best’.
The strive for perfection and a refusal to appear vulnerable leads to mental health issues among lawyers that need to be highlighted. During the webinar, panelists also discussed ways in which this problem can be solved.
‘We all are a bit of perfectionists and it is hard for us to admit that we are not perfect’.
Apart from perfectionism, the reason why lawyers tend to put away their own needs is their responsibility to tend to the needs of other people.
‘Most lawyers have a level of stress of having others in their care. That could be a client or that could be other lawyers in their team. Having other people in your care sometimes means that you don’t put your oxygen mask on first. Practically speaking, it is very important for lawyers to pause and take inventory of everyone in their care, and I think it is right to start with yourselves. We are not taught in any state of our career either to take inventory or to check in with ourselves’.
4 Ways to Improve Mental Health in Law
There are several small things that you can do that can make a huge difference for your mental health. Even though there are conversations and different resources you can use, the responsibility is on yourself to actually use them and choose to take care of yourself.
1. Know your stress levels
Being aware of your own feelings is extremely important, because only you know them, and only you can get them under control.
‘Having moments of anxiety is normal, [however] it is not normal when these moments become prolonged and limiting to our lives. That is when we need to see professional help. This conversation has to be normalized. Partially the reason that it isn’t is us not knowing the difference between what is normal worrying and when these moments become too prolonged. Most of us are not educated about that difference and we group all stress, worrying, and anxiety into one bucket. Being educated about those differences is the first step. Some of it can be addressed by yourself, and for some of it you need to seek professional help’.
2. Find your positive way to relax and destress
Every person needs to rest after stressful days, and there are many things you can do to help you destress. Here is only a small list of options for you to choose from, what works for you may be different from someone else:
- Watching a favorite movie or series
- Having a relaxing bath with essential oils
- Ordering your favorite food
- Having dinner with loved ones
- Taking a walk or going to the gym
- Even, scrolling through the social media
‘One day, I walked into my office, I sat down, and I just could not move. I couldn’t decide between checking my voicemail, checking my email or physical mail, preparing for upcoming hearings, or preparing the reports from the ones I just attended. I had five things to do and for some reason I couldn’t choose the priority. I sat there for a few minutes and finally said to myself ‘It doesn’t matter what you pick, you need to pick something to go, nothing will be done with you sitting here. I picked something and the minute I started to move towards that I froze. But then I thought that I have to prepare reports and I started arguing with myself. What I did next was take some essential oils from my desk and put some of them in the diffuser and it kicked in. This little difference helped me to keep going. Since then, I have the oils in my toolbox’.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask your law firm or law school about their mental health resources
Your environment plays a significant role in your mental state, which is why you should pay more attention to the people that surround you. This includes firms you work in or the schools that give you information about how to lead your law practice. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask how your firm approaches the mental health of their employees or be curious about how your professors control the competitive environment in their classrooms.
‘I see more law firms providing different resources for employees, and a few law schools are starting to provide meditation in the classroom. If you are a pre-law student and if mental health is important for you, you should put it on your list when comparing schools, especially when you are applying. With firms, it is something you can ask in the interview. My last firm used to hike and it did great to release some of the tension. It is so hard sometimes to let out fully what you are really feeling’.
4. Find your support group
You should not have to take on everything you are going through by yourself. People need other people to feel better, to talk through their problems or concerns. It is essential to find somebody you can be comfortable with and be sure that you are not alone.
‘Find the people you are comfortable with, your colleagues or friends, whether it is professional or mentorship or friendship, and rely on them. There is no easy fix, but if you talk to people who are in the same position as you, you can at least bounce ideas off of each other and be compassionate towards each other’.
Lawyers are perfectionists by nature. They know how to achieve, how to be great in hearings and trials, and they also know how to take care in their work. However, most of their time is spent caring for other people, rather than themselves. It is never too late to start taking care of your mental health, and the smallest thing you can do is to be aware of your feelings and be honest with yourself. Your mental health will be grateful.