How to Mark World Mental Health Day

Judging by the number of recent surveys and legal media articles on the topic, awareness of mental health struggles in the legal profession is higher than ever. Many law firms now have “wellness” tabs on their websites, sponsor mental health awareness events and campaigns, and donate to organizations that provide support. Whether these efforts will translate into more support for struggling lawyers remains to be seen, but it’s clear that far more substantive change is required to make legal careers sustainable in the long term.

October 10 is World Mental Health Day, an “international day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma.” This holiday creates an opportunity to consider how we can move the legal profession past lip service and toward a workplace culture that allows all employees to thrive. Here are some steps you can start with today:

Protect your own mental health. Make time in your schedule to take care of your body, mind and spirit. If you are struggling, reach out to your local Lawyer Assistance Program or other resource for help. “Self-care” checklists might make you roll your eyes, but we’ve got to start somewhere!

Be the kind of person someone might turn to for help. This is easier said than done, especially in a profession where lawyers carefully craft an image of perfection and live in fear of vulnerability. It takes incredible courage in that context to talk openly about struggles. But even minor acknowledgment of how you have relied on outside support in the past or questioned your drinking or sleeping habits might make a colleague feel safe confiding in you. 

Advocate for humane workplace policies. A firm culture that incentivizes employees to ignore signs of burnout, stigmatizes health problems, and overlooks the fact that we are human beings with family obligations of many kinds outside work is not a place that encourages wellness. Self-care checklists can only go so far, and they are not going to save us from systems that rely on and benefit from human misery. Organizations have to change, and that starts with individuals speaking up and participating in the development of better firm policies any way we can.

 

The legal profession has a long way to go on mental health, but change is possible. We all have a role to play.