We are always mindful of the impact stress has on the mental health of those in the legal profession. Over the summer the Ardent team has trained in Mental Health First Aid. We asked Mental Health First Aid Instructor James Capell-Abra of Stress Matters, who trained the team, to share some thoughts on mental health in the legal profession.

Why has mental health become such a big issue within the legal profession?

Mental Health has had a spotlight shone on it recently, even more so since the wider impacts of the pandemic have been seen and felt. In the legal profession, there is a particularly unique culture and the work that you do has traditionally had unique pressures and expectations. It seems like the culture of long hours and competitiveness starts from training in law and continues from there. Coupled with client’s expectations for you to be available all the time, it’s easy to see how high stress can quickly and easily lead to mental ill health for legal professionals.

Since the pandemic is it easier for employees to raise mental health concerns in the workplace?

The simple fact that we are talking more about Mental Health helps to reduce the stigma attached to it and make it easier for employees to raise concerns about the mental health of themselves or their colleagues. The pandemic has certainly helped to make that conversation easier but we do need to be looking at the culture and values within our businesses to ensure they support an open and honest environment where colleagues can raise concerns and know that they will receive support, not judgment.

 

What is the best way to support colleagues who may be struggling with their mental health?

The main thing we can do is listen. And I mean really listen. Don’t try to fix it or give advice, just provide a safe space for your colleague to talk openly and honestly to you. Listening is more than just sitting quietly though. Focus on your body language and show empathy. To learn how to spot concerning signs and symptoms, how to provide further support and signposting and how to deal with crisis situations, consider training to become a Mental Health First Aider.

 

What mental health good practice are you seeing in legal firms?

Managing mental health in the workplace is more than just providing training. We’ve seen legal firms improve support, decrease absenteeism and increase productivity by focusing on the following four areas:

Awareness – Ensuring you are constantly raising awareness about mental health in your firm.

Training – Making sure you have the right balance of awareness, line management and First Aid training in your firm.

Engagement – Considering how to best engage your colleagues in your Mental Health First Aid Programme so that they use it when needed and take part in proactive support initiatives to help prevent them from needing it in the first place.

Strategy – Creating a solid and sustainable strategy to make sure this isn’t a one-off tick box activity, but instead an ongoing part of your culture to help protect the Mental Health of your team whilst also maximising productivity and reducing Mental Health related absenteeism and staff turnover.

 

What are your top tips for legal professionals returning to the office?

  1. Be honest about how you’re feeling and what you need from your colleagues. If you’re feeling anxious, that’s ok. The chances are, some of your team members probably are too. Share your concerns and what others can do to help you.
  2. Be vigilant for signs of stress or mental ill health in others. If you are worried about a colleague, approach them at a time and place where they would feel comfortable and tell them your concern. Ask how they are genuinely and more than once and reassure them that you won’t judge them.
  3. Get involved in your wellbeing champion network. If you don’t have one at your firm, start one!
  4. Look after yourself. Returning to the office is likely going to be another upheaval to our routines. Plan time for regular self-care so you can recharge your batteries.
  5. Make your office days count. You can do computer work at home so make the most of your time in the office by re-connecting with your colleagues in person to build better relationships and better teamworking and collaboration.

Get in touch with James at Stress Matters for more information or to train as a Mental Health First Aider:

To find out your firm’s current Mental Health First Aid Score, you can complete the free Stress Matters Scorecard You’ll find out your score in each category and get a personalised PDF report back with guidance on how to make improvements in each area.