Ignore at Your Peril

Listen to your body, family and friends


The legal profession is full of compulsive achievers and responsibility-takers. Perfectionism – or at least the concealment of weaknesses and flaws – is both normal and rewarded. Over-working is also rewarded. Financial and client/employer pressures are unrelenting, and self-criticism is an unescapable noise.

The WHO defines health as a state of physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Wellness is the active process of becoming aware of, and making, choices to improve and protect your own health.

In a 2012 Ipsos Reid survey of 1180 lawyers from across Canada, stress/burnout and anxiety were identified as the #1 and #2 health/wellness issues among the legal profession. Nothing else came close. Perhaps surprisingly, alcoholism and substance abuse were much further down the list.

On the good news side, lawyers are more likely to seek help from a medical or mental health professional than peers or family for health/wellness challenges. On the downside, they are very likely not to seek help at all. Somewhat ironically, the top reason given is “no time.”

Time is actually the one thing that health and wellness gives you more of… not just in terms of measurable productivity, but also in years of life and quality of life. In the words of coach John Wooden: “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” Now is the time to pay attention; to check-in with yourself and those around you – am I showing signs of physical, mental and emotional ill health? Am I investing enough time in my own wellness? And if not, what can I do to move it up the priority list?

Fortunately, the resources available to help on mental health issues like anxiety and stress have expanded rapidly over the past year, especially those directed at lawyers. For starters, look at cba.org/wellness for a large list of resources and, more importantly, a brand new online course created through a collaboration of CBA, Bell Let’s Talk and the Mood Disorder Society of Canada. “Mental Health and Wellness in the Legal Profession” is delivered by MDcme.ca, which is a consortium of all 17 of Canada’s medical schools. It’s an amazing new – and free – course available to all lawyers.

The CBA Ontario Branch, with leadership from past president Orlando da Silva, has created an entire “Opening Remarks” webpage, multiple “Mindful Lawyer” CPD webinars and great resource sheets on the topic of mental health. Check it out at oba.org/openingremarks.

Here at home, there are some terrific resources, including the CBABC Branch website at cbabc.org/wellness, the Lawyers Assistance Program (LAP) at lapbc.com. There are also two 1-800 numbers for immediate help: Call 1-800-667-5722 to reach the CBA Legal Profession Assistance Conference (LPAC), and 1-800-663-9099 to reach the Law Society’s third-party personal counselling service, Optum Health at optum.ca. Note: you pay for this service through your Law Society fee, and can access it at any time, including their LiveWell Online Portal.

In the community, two local resources stand out: the Canadian Mental Health Association at cmha.bc.ca and the BC Mood Disorders Association at mdabc.net.

All of us experience – and often are motivated by – a certain amount of stress. The physiological reality is that prolonged experience of stress can have serious impacts on our bodies, thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The legal profession is not immune to this outcome and, as research shows, is in some ways more vulnerable. You don’t have to manage this alone – check out the available resources and take any steps you can in support of your own wellness.