Bell Let's Talk 2020

On January 29, 2020, CBABC participated in #BellLet'sTalk Day by sharing personal stories from lawyers regarding their experiences and challenges with mental health issues. 

As part of #MentalHealthWeek, we have put all of these stories in one place so you hear them again.

Talking about mental health issues can help end the stigma around mental illness. 

Break the silence. Mental illness touches us all in some way directly or through a friend, family member or colleague. Stories of people who have experienced mental health issues and who are doing well can really challenge stereotypes. Most people with mental health issues can and do recover, just by talking about it.

From Bell Let's Talk

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Effective help? In a word: no.

Not really. I don't have a doctor in Vancouver. I think someone at my firm would probably help if I reached out, but I'm sure word would spread and I can't be sure whether there would be negative consequences for seeking help.

In addition to resources available through the Law Society of BC, it may be advisable to start with your family doctor.

“Try starting the day with a win. Knock some quick but troublesome tasks off your list or handle the toughest piece of work in the pile. As a former litigation partner now judge once told me: ‘Do the dog pile first.’”

– Allison Wolf, “Beating the Procrastination Habit: Quick tips and a practice of inquiry”

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In that circumstance it would be out of fear of having my reputation damaged at my firm, especially among certain partners. There is also the concern that the Law Society might question my fitness to practice, even if things weren't severe.

If you're not well, and you've had negative or discouraging experiences with mental health help- the discouragement is compounded and it makes it substantially more difficult to motivate oneself to try again.

Not applicable. I did seek help and it has made a huge difference.

“There’s this notion that everyone in law is perfect…We are such a high-achieving profession. Everyone seems so smart. And no one is willing to show any weakness. It can feel like you’re the only idiot who doesn’t know everything.  This makes it difficult to see the world through rational eyes.”

– Precedent Magazine “The mental health crisis in law”

Refrain from blame– Mental illness has an external locus of control and it can happen to anyone at any time. Don’t blame yourself or anyone else when in distress, and at the same time, don’t brush difficult feelings aside.

– Slaw

 

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No. Being perceived as having impaired judgement or capabilities for whatever reason will seriously hinder a lawyer's career.

Certainly not in specifics. Again, it is the fear that word would reach partners or the Law Society and there would be negative consequences.

It would frankly just be nice to hear a strong message from the top that the firm understands the impacts of mental health issues and there will be no negative consequences for being open about those issues.

When you make your living based on your brain, so to speak, one is obviously very concerned about looking like a "weakling" or as somehow defective or "lesser". The irony is that the brain qualities that make people able to become and work as lawyers are often the same brain qualities that can cause health issues. 

My present employer is unaware of my health condition. I am not comfortable enough to discuss it with my colleagues, the most senior of whom strikes me as a person who would likely not be very empathetic or enlightened, so I will take my time before deciding to discuss my issues with the people who sign my paycheque.

Talk -  Talk! And most importantly, talk! Express how you feel to your friends and family. Talking provides a new perspective, helps vent suppressed emotions and builds bonds that support us during our most difficult times.   Seek help when you’re struggling; some consider it a weakness, but it can become your greatest strength.

"Mental Health and the Legal Profession"

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I've not had this experience. I've only had the experience of hearing about lawyers who fell apart, afterwards. It's disheartening. I think some of us turn to substance abuse because conventional care offends the idea of what a successful lawyer looks like; forgetting that falling apart looks worse.

I speak in generalities, but only talk about my personal experiences with my closest friend.

I share my experience if someone else shares it first. But I do not ever volunteer it.

My first response is gratitude, just as I would feel about somebody sharing anything personal with me. So I typically thank them for sharing and assure them that I will be discreet.

I am no counselor so my "advice" is generally limited to trying to assure the person that many of us are in various states of physical and/or emotional pain for various reasons, including me, and we all need to pull together in order to cope and getting to that state is the only way to begin to grow and thrive.

When you or someone you know takes the risk to share a mental health concern such as anxiety or depression, avoid using words like “crazy” or telling yourself or others to “snap out of it.”

"Tips for Law Students Struggling with Mental Health Issues"

 

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I suffer from often crippling generalized anxiety disorder and a phobia of public speaking (not to the court but to a group of my peers). I am a litigator and I love my job - however, dealing with my mental health is often a part-time job.

I have suffered from depression since early in my undergraduate degree, during which I took anti-depressants for about a year. During law school I was suicidal at times and also developed anxiety which caused severe nausea. I have now been on a combined anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drug for about two years, which I feel have helped significantly.

For many years, my wife and I disagreed about the state of my mental health. She wanted me to go to our family doctor, which I did. However, it took many years, some unexpected insight, and much perseverance before I was able to identify what my issues actually were through the right specialists.

The key is to enlist support through your family and friends and never stop looking for an answer to your questions. It may take a while but you will get there.

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Confidential, professional assistance may be much more effective than self-help, but lawyers are often resistant to seeking out such support due to stigma and fear. Lawyers, of all people, should appreciate the importance of getting independent advice from a properly qualified professional.  

– Brook Greenberg, “Perfectionism, self-doubt and mental health in the legal profession”