If you’ve ever struggled, you’re not alone. If you’ve ever despaired wondering how you can possibly carry on, you’re not alone. If you’ve ever felt crushed under an enormous workload or client demands, you’re not alone. If you’ve ever felt lonely or unsupported, you’re not alone.
Mental health matters. Mental health impairment is a real thing.
It’s Mental Health Awareness week from 9-16 May. This year’s theme is “loneliness”. It can be easy for professionals to feel that we’re on our own, even when we’re surrounded by others. That can lead to mental and emotional suffering. I want you to know that you’re not alone, even if it feels like you are!
The stigma of mental ill health is gradually reducing. This is down to the fact that it is now being much more widely talked about. The more it’s out in the open, the more effectively it can be tackled and the less alone we feel.
However, there seems to be an unwritten rule that if we’re feeling low, we have to put on a brave face, perpetuating as convincingly as possible the public deception that all is well. This is particularly apparent on social media.
For a legal professional under strain, the last thing they might want to do is to go to their firm/company/chambers for help. And it’s easy to assume that you are the only one who is struggling.
To many professionals, it’s unconscionable to admit the “failing” of impaired mental (or physical) health. Why? Fear. Primarily, the fear of irrevocably damaging their reputation and their career.
Solicitors’ firms are beginning to make a shift in their approach to this important issue. Some are putting procedures and practices in place to offer support to anyone who is struggling. I know of firms who have posters plastered over their walls about mental health, with dedicated individuals available to speak to on a confidential basis.
But here’s the thing. I’m also aware that some struggling legal professionals in practices with these measures in place, would never voluntarily choose to go down that route. They are suspicious. I have had some lawyers say to me that they assume that those policies and support options are fundamentally there to protect the firm. Their perceived risk to their career of laying themselves bare is just too great.
It seems that no one is immune. I have heard similar stories from lawyers at all levels, from paralegals and trainees to partner level. And so the sense of “aloneness” is perpetuated.
I am not condemning those legal professionals who are in fear. I am saddened that the culture of the profession gives them a reason to be afraid. It’s time for a change.
What can be done?
Systemic cultural change takes time, especially in such an ancient profession as the law.
I don’t recommend that you hold your breath waiting for that to happen overnight while you suffer in silence. You will most likely end up ultimately taking enforced time off due to burnout or intolerable stress, or feeling you have no choice but to exit your job and/or the profession altogether. I’ve never come across a single legal professional who anticipated this as an ending when they first set out on their career.
That leaves only one thing: YOU. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “nothing can bring you peace but yourself”.
You need to change. Take responsibility. It’s time for lawyers to put themselves first, to be “selfish”. If you don’t, you have to ask yourself if the price is worth paying. What can you do?
- Recognise and acknowledge it if you’re struggling. There’s no shame in that. Remind yourself that you are not alone. Don’t wait for it to resolve by itself.
- Call the LawCare helpline (Tel: 0800 279 6888 Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm). LawCare is the mental wellbeing charity for the legal community. They have recently also added an online chat facility to their offering (Wednesdays 9am – 5pm). They have an array of resources on their website (www.lawcare.org.uk), and can signpost you to other resources according to your needs.
- As an immediate coping strategy… take that first step in asking for support (don’t be a lone wolf). Consciously choose to put yourself first. Learn how to breathe intentionally to assist relaxation. Take a break. Ensure you get enough sleep. Exercise your body. Pay attention to your diet. Regulate your alcohol or other substance intake. Allow yourself some quality leisure time at least every week.
- For immediate support with all the above AND long-term resilience and clarity… reach out and get a coach. An experienced life coach can help you overcome the struggle and make radical changes to your experience of life. A good coach can support you to finally find fulfilment, in the particular way that is natural and effortless for you. It might just be the best investment of your life.
Remember, you are not (and do not need to be) alone.
Kim Parker is a former property solicitor and now wellbeing and transformational life coach
If you would like to explore coaching, Kim has recently launched her six-month online group coaching programme “The Six Keys”. As part of continuing competence, solicitors are required to reflect on the quality of their practice and identify any learning and development needs. The Six Keys to personal success and professional satisfaction are designed to support legal professionals “with soul” who know there is “more”. The programme focuses on establishing the key foundations that will support you to build strongly for your desired life, career, health, wealth and your personal and professional relationships. You can find more information here: https://www.kim-parker.com/six-keys/