Mental health can be a sensitive topic depending on who you ask. Things have improved solidly in the last decade—with advancements in communication and how we handle and treat those afflicted, as well as enhancements in work practices to manage employees or co-workers with better care and offer more substantial help if need be.
However, despite the progress we make, the issue remains: the workplace can be inherently stressful, and an overwhelming amount of stress can lead to a decrease in mental health. But which positions can be worse than others in that respect and why?
A study conducted in Australia in 2016 found that, compared to other professionals, lawyers suffer from considerably lower levels of psychological and psychosomatic wellbeing. Dr Rebecca Michalak of the University of Queensland found that substance abuse among private practice lawyers can be double that of others, and that bullying was a prevalent issue within law firms, particularly due to destabilisation. While most cases of bullying are defined by the victim as being narrowed to one person, in her research, Michalak found that 58.4% of lawyers subject to bullying confined it to a group, with 74.7% claiming that the main perpetuator was older than them.
In more recent news, 56,000 young lawyers in the UK are to be given questionnaires from the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) to report their stress levels within their position. It succeeds the previous year, where exceedingly high levels of stress were reported from a similar survey. The aim of the questionnaire is to provide a deeper look into why these stress levels are so high and what can be done to remove the root of the problem, as well as raise awareness of these issues. According to their own research, one in four lawyers experience ‘severe’ stress at work, with 90% of juniors explaining that they feel stressed and under pressure on the job and over half of them saying they feel unable to cope as the result. JLD is to release guidance for employers on best practice to support junior lawyers, as well as other employees.
The important thing, as Ann Charlton, Coordinator for England and Wales at LawCare asserts, is that we “acknowledge and recognise” the problem. Recounting the calls she received to the charity’s anonymous support line, bullying and depression were the most common issues being brought to their attention. The connection between the two is clear—other, similarly damaging factors aside, bullying in the workplace can have a severe detrimental effect on a person and can be a widespread issue among lawyers in their field especially.
As we continue to develop how we handle the topic of mental health, it becomes ever more important to acknowledge the workplace and what happens within its walls—sometimes without us knowing or realising. With continued work and care, we can make the progress required to combat these injustices with more vigour.