Guest post by Elizabeth Rimmer, Chief Executive of LawCare
We all have mental health, just as we have physical health. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing, and affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
Mental health issues range from the worries we all experience as part of everyday life, to serious long-term conditions. It can be easy to dismiss mental health problems as something that happen to other people, but research shows that 1 in 4 of us will experience them each year. And yes, the legal community is no exception.
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as ‘a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’.
This definition places wellbeing at its heart.
What Do We Mean by Wellbeing?
It means different things to different people but, it’s about how we feel, how we think, our relationships, and how we find meaning and purpose in our lives.
About 50% of our wellbeing is influenced by our genes, 10% is about our upbringing and external circumstances such as our health, work or financial situation, but crucially about 40% is influenced by our choices and attitudes – how we approach relationships, our values and our sense of purpose.
This means we can take positive steps to influence our wellbeing. There has been considerable research into the science of wellbeing and this gives us an opportunity to use this evidence to make better choices to increase wellbeing in our personal lives, homes, schools, workplaces and communities.
How to Improve Your Wellbeing
There are five simple steps we can take to improve our wellbeing:
- Connect – with the people around us, our family, friends, colleagues
- Be active – finding time for exercise or enjoyable hobbies
- Keep learning – new skills can boost confidence
- Give to others – just a simple kind word to someone or volunteering your time can improve your wellbeing
- Be mindful – be more aware of the present moment, including your feelings and thoughts, your body and the world around you
In a professional context, wellbeing matters because it brings a number of benefits: greater self-esteem, optimism, resilience, vitality, self-determination, positive relationships with colleagues, better physical and mental health, greater motivation, greater creativity, and more productive work.
Wellbeing & Lawyers
It is known from research in the USA that lawyers have higher rates of anxiety, depression and stress compared to other professions. Why is this? It’s not that lawyers are genetically predisposed to poorer wellbeing than other people, there is something about the about the culture and practice of law that can have an impact. It is the culture of the well-known poor work/life balance, the long hours and presenteeism, the competitive environment, the fear of failure and the driven and perfectionist personalities that can be drawn to law. All of this contributes to an environment that can make some people more vulnerable to mental health concerns.
Lawyers are expected to cope with the demands of the job, and fear that not coping will be seen as a sign of weakness. They can find it difficult to acknowledge that they may need support and talk openly about mental health in the workplace.
At LawCare, the charity that supports and promotes mental health and wellbeing throughout the legal community in the UK, we know that talking is an important first step in changing the way we think and act about mental health. We want to get the legal community talking about mental health.
Since we were founded in 1997 we have helped thousands of people in the legal community manage the day to day pressures of working in the law. But we want to support lawyers to do more than just survive in the legal workplace we want them to thrive.
Wellbeing & Resilience
Resilience is an important factor in the workplace. Resilience is the ability to resist or bounce back from adversity, and in any workplace there will be people who thrive on challenges and difficulties, while others will find it hard to cope with unexpected change or problems. If someone finds it hard to forge ahead when things go wrong, the good news is that we can all learn how to develop our resilience.
Highly resilient people are flexible, adapt to new circumstances quickly, and thrive in times of constant change. Most importantly, they expect to bounce back, and feel confident that they will. That expectation is closely linked to a general sense of optimism, and finding the positive aspects in most situations is a skill that can be evolved. The right mental attitude to cope, and even flourish, when the going gets tough, can be developed.
10 Tips to Build Resilience:
- Learn to see challenges, mistakes and failures as valuable learning experiences
- Give yoursef a pat on the back when things go well. Be kind and forgive ourselves when things go wrong
- Don’t give in to negative thoughts. Challenge them, and ask whether they are true or realistic
- Use humour to defuse and downplay difficulties. We can laugh at ourselves and situations
- Be flexible. Recognise that nothing stays the same, especially in the workplace
- Take care of physical and mental health. Get enough sleep, exercise and eat well. When our physical self is in good shape, we are less fragile
- Take time off work, use holiday entitlements and take breaks during the working day
- Recognise that a bad situation is usually temporary
- Build a support network. Make time for friends and family who offer encouragement and strength. Consult supportive work colleagues
- Don’t extrapolate one bad situation into another unrelated situation. We can’t be good at everything; recognise areas of strength
Attitude and perspective are fundamental to building resilience. Paying attention to strengths and how to develop them, learning to accept that things won’t always go well, and focusing on what is working rather than what’s not, are all key.
How Things Can Change
We need to come together as a legal community to raise awareness and understanding of mental health, in order to create healthier and more supportive working environments for lawyers. Although attitudes are changing, the fact remains that many people feel unable to raise mental health problems at work, and we need to do something about this.
Organisations are only as strong as their people and a healthy and productive workforce where staff feel valued and supported, will be more committed to the organisation’s goals and perform better in their jobs. Mental health matters.
LawCare is the charity that supports and promotes good mental health and wellbeing in the legal community throughout the UK and Ireland. Our support spans the entire legal life – from student to training, through to practice and retirement.
We understand life in the law. If people need someone to talk to, they can call us on our free, independent, and confidential helpline. Calls are answered by trained staff and volunteers, all of whom have experience of working in the legal sector. We offer empathetic support for work, emotional, health and financial problems, and we signpost callers to specialist support where appropriate. Call us on 0800 279 6888 365 days a year, or visit our website www.lawcare.org.uk.
About Elizabeth Rimmer
Elizabeth Rimmer started her working life as a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. She has been managing and developing charities in the mental health sector for over fifteen years, and joined LawCare as Chief Executive in 2014.