Is the ‘black dog’ barking at your door?

You would have recently read some posts in this blog about the black dog attacking lawyers, penned by our resident wordsmith Shane Budden.

In a recent post titled “Feeding the black dog” Shane noted that one in three lawyers experience depressive episodes at some point.

I will once again, shine a light on this important topic, as we celebrate Law Week in Queensland.

British novelist Matt Haig is quoted as having said that, “we need, ultimately, to be able to view mental health with the same clear-headedness we show when talking about physical mental health.”

You would see a dentist for problems with your teeth, a doctor for physical ailments or an optometrist for eye troubles. So why then, is there such a stigma around mental health and wellbeing in the professional world?

Queensland Law Society has just held their second mental health event for the year. I believe in leading by example, and thus, the Society does our best to support solicitors as well as provide opportunities to reflect upon these issues.

As president of the Law Society and a partner in my firm, I am a leader. Just as all of you are leaders in some area of your lives — whether it be at work, at home, in your circle of friends, or in your community.

The responsibility rests with all of us to open discussion around mental health, as well as educating ourselves on the symptoms and causes of mental illness.

A 2008 study by Professor Ian Hickie of Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Institute, found that almost 33% of solicitors were affected by depression, and 40% of law students experienced severe stress/depression to the extent of requiring medical treatment.

These numbers are as confronting as they are saddening. It is our responsibility as a profession to raise awareness of the causes of mental illness, and to ensure that we address this stigma as well as provide both support and concrete steps that can be taken to prevent mental illness.

With so many ways to communicate available to us, we must always keep mental health in the backs of our minds.

Mental illness is something that can touch anyone in their personal lives and in our profession. It does not discriminate and it is not just. I’m sure many of you have either experienced mental health issues yourself or through a family member, friend or even colleague.

Alongside mental illness, there are also the old and new challenges still facing us. This along with the general stresses of work, home life and other issues we may each face, make it even more essential to take note of our mental health and that of those around us.

I encourage you to continue to leave the door open for discussions on mental health and wellbeing, and to be kind to one another.

In our ever-changing, rapidly growing profession, the legal landscape must continue to evolve while also ensuring that the wellbeing of our members remains a key concern.

We must break through the barrier of fear, shame and despair in order to empower and assist those suffering.

None of us wants to look back and wish we had done something differently. We must be open about mental health and wellbeing, and encourage discussion. This will make us leaders, and inspirations to our profession to be better human beings.

It is now three years since the profession took hold of the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation’s Best Practice Guidelines. Queensland Law Society was the first Law Society to sign onto the guidelines in Australia.

The guidelines can assist law firms with structuring and measuring their workplace environment and approach to mental health support. You can find them on our website by clicking here.

Since then, we have continued to support the annual Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation lecture, and stay on top of our mental health and wellbeing offerings for members and the wider profession.

Thank you to those who spearhead such initiatives within our profession and broader community — you are inspirations to us all.