LawCare Making Mental Health Matter

LawCare is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and marked the occasion with an afternoon conference in London on 10 October, World Mental Health Day. LawCare has witnessed significant growth and change in the legal profession over those two decades, as organisations start to embrace the mental health agenda and recognise the need to look after those who need support with mental health issues.

 

We have played our part, moving from being a charity that supported lawyers who had difficulties with alcohol, to one that offers help with issues ranging from stress to depression to anxiety to bullying at work, right across the profession in the UK and Ireland.

 

Over the last twenty years it has become more acceptable to talk about mental health. When LawCare was set up in 1997  it was difficult for people to get support, or sympathy, and it seemed as if no-one wanted to know. It was felt that those lawyers who had difficulties with alcohol for example, were the authors of their own misfortune, and members of the profession were getting lost as a result.

 

While there has been a gradual sea change, this has accelerated over the past two years. In the legal profession, this has gone hand-in-hand with what we have seen more widely in society, where celebrities and sportspeople have been talking openly about their mental health issues, the Royal Family joined the Heads Together campaign, and the Government has pledged more support. We have also had campaigns such as This is Me and Time to Change reaching into our profession, as well as the formation of the City Mental Health Alliance, which is currently chaired by Nigel Jones, a partner in London firm Linklaters.

 

It is very encouraging to see across the profession, from large corporate firms where client pressures and long hours can take their toll, to legal aid practices where cuts and working with vulnerable clients can be difficult, that the mental health agenda is being taken onboard. Particularly timely was the theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day, which was mental health in the workplace. Mental health issues have been shown to increase employee absenteeism, lower rates of productivity and increase costs. This year’s campaign contributed to taking mental health out of the shadows in the workplace, so that people and employers have the tools to help staff and increase the overall mental wellbeing of their workforce.

 

This theme ran throughout LawCare’s conference, Making Mental Health Matter, which included a keynote address from Jo Loughran, Director of Operations at Time to Change, which helps organisations change the way we all feel and act about mental health; a personal story from Chris Parsons, Chairman of the India Practice of Herbert Smith Freehills and how the business supported him, and a panel discussion with members from Linklaters, the Junior Lawyers’ Division of the Law Society of England & Wales, Scottish Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Ireland’s counselling service, about current practice in their organisations.

We also heard from Lizzie Lockett, who is deputy CEO of the Royal Society of Veterinary Surgeons [RSVS], the regulatory body for veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses in the UK, about how the organisation is supporting vets experiencing mental health issues. In Autumn 2014 the RSVS set up the Mind Matters Initiative, which aims to make a difference to the mental health and wellbeing of members of the veterinary team, including students, nurses, surgeons and practice managers. Lizzie runs the programme on a day-to-day basis, and spoke to the 70-strong audience about what those differences are, and how they have impacted the day-to-day lives of the wider team.

 

LawCare also launched a new booklet on World Mental Health Day, which provides tips for good mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. The aim is to help organisations start to create a culture that encourages people to be open and honest about their mental health.

 

We know that it is significant for senior leaders to get onboard with any mental health and wellbeing initiatives, as it sends a clear message that staff wellbeing matters, and colleagues take cues from how leaders behave: leaders can demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to staff wellbeing by walking the talk. The tips can be downloaded here https://www.lawcare.org.uk/files/Look-After-Others.pdf

 

Above all, on our 20th anniversary, we hope that these changes in attitude will continue to roll out across the legal community, and that all organisations put in place strategies to support their people with mental health issues. We are moving forward but we still have some way to go, We hope that in another 20 years’ time, the profession will look entirely different where mental health is concerned, and that anyone with a problem will be able to talk about it openly and find support. We’re on our way.

 

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