Let’s Talk Mental Health

The CBA has resources to help!


Let’s Talk Mental Health

Bell Let’s Talk Day was January 29, 2020 and as such mental wellness was a topic at our AGM February 1, 2020. This issue focusses on Health and the Legal Profession, with an emphasis on mental health and wellness issues.

More than a decade ago, I remember sitting in a lecture hall at UBC Downtown for a CLEBC course on trial techniques. The lecturers were brought in from the United States. They greeted us by calling us “Trial Lawyers: Type A, obsessive-compulsive, control freak, adrenaline junkies: ‘real sick puppies.’” No-one laughed, no-one protested. We sat quiet, presumably thinking thoughts like mine: “well, he’s not far wrong….”

We’ve all heard the stats, and they are alarming. A famous ABA study revealed around 60% of the 13,000 lawyers surveyed experienced anxiety and almost half experienced depression at some point in their careers while roughly a third of respondents gave answers consistent with problematic drinking. Another 2016 study of law students showed a concerning incidence of anxiety: 14% reported extreme anxiety while 23% reported mild or moderate anxiety. Compounding the situation, further research shows stigma continues to affect both individuals’ and the profession’s understanding of mental health issues. The Law Society of British Columbia talks about how mental illness is stigmatized in the Mental Health Task Force’s December 2018 interim report.

There are mental wellness resources available. For those in crisis, there is the BC Crisis Line (310-6789, no area code) and the Lawyers Assistance Program (“LAP”) (lapbc.com, 604-685-2171 or 1-888-685-2171). LAP is:

“[A]n independent organization of members of the BC legal community (lawyers, judges, families and support staff)… [who] provide peer support and referral services to help people deal with personal problems — including alcohol and drug dependence, stress and anxiety, depression and other issues. These are all treatable illnesses, not moral issues.”

We all know we should take care of our physical health. Past a certain age, we know we should see our doctors for regular check-ups. If we’re hurt or ill, we go to a doctor. It follows we should take care of our mental health and seek help when we’re psychologically hurt or mentally unwell. We know we should exercise regularly, eat right and try to get a good night’s sleep. While we know these latter three items help our physical health, they also help our mental health. Personally, I find running just as valuable for my mental health as it is for my aerobic health. I’ve read a walk in the woods is good for the soul.

At the CBABC, our lawyer wellness subpage (cbabc.org/Wellness) has resources that address physical health and speak to the connection between physical and mental health. We also have resources on Mental Wellness, Work-Life Balance, People in Crisis, etc. The Mental Wellness page includes links to articles on Stress Management, Resilience, Preventing Burnout, and Dealing with Perfectionism. On that latter topic, I believe the pursuit of perfection can and often does act as a barrier to obtaining excellence. Perfection is impossible to attain. We need to be willing to say, “this is very good,” while acknowledging that further changes may make the work-product different without making it better.

Our national office also has wellness resources available for lawyers across the country. They have a self-directed online learning program, links to The Mindful Lawyer PD series, and a library of other resources.

Let me conclude by encouraging everyone to look out for our colleagues and be ready to offer specific help. Sometimes, “is there anything I can do” is too overwhelming of a question for someone who’s burnt out, stressed out, or depressed. An offer of your time, coffee or tea, or company on a long walk may be better. And lastly, be well!

Related Articles