Are you Looking out for Your Team's Mental Health? ...


While legal dramas on television have a tendency to show lawyers thriving in the high stress, fast-paced, "no time for a personal life" work environment, the real world isn't quite the same.
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The practice of law comes with a tremendous amount of stress that has lawyers feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders. Every action in the legal world has a very real and lasting impact on the life of the client, with the lawyer feeling every bit of the responsibility. Neha Sampat writes for Attorney at Work about what she calls "Imposter Syndrome" which is actually a constant feeling of incompetence. When lawyers constantly feel like they aren't good enough, it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. All of this contributes to major stress and poor mental health on the part of hardworking legal professionals all over the world.

Negative Effects of Stress

Every member of your firm will naturally experience some stress as a part of their normal work lives. As WebMD writes, some stress is actually beneficial to your health. But at higher and prolonged levels, stress can have more serious physical effects such as:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Chest pains
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Stomach problems

Less noticeable symptoms can turn into more chronic issues over time without proper attention to the root cause of the problem. For many attorneys, these symptoms tend to be squashed down and written-off as part of what comes with the job. Stress also brings about a certain amount of mental health concerns that impact overall well-being, and the ability of attorneys to give their best to their clients. When attorneys ignore the signs of stress, they aren't doing themselves or their clients any favours.

Spotting the Signs of Stress

Help Guide includes a list of warning signs that stress may be a problem. When you identify co-workers at the firm displaying a number of these warning signs, it is indicative that their mental health may be suffering and are in need of a helping hand. Some of the most telling signs in a legal environment may include memory problems, withdrawing from others, nervous habits, feeling overwhelmed and most importantly, poor judgment. Dealing with the problem head-on to keep those working in the legal field mentally fit will keep the last one, "poor judgment" from becoming a problem.

Positive Mental Health at the Firm

The American Bar Association has charged law firms to do more to support mental health in their workplaces, according to Dan Packel with Law.com. This is just one of the major legal organisations in the world that have taken the initiative to promote improved mental health in the profession. The Global Legal Post notes efforts in the United Kingdom by The Legal Professions Wellbeing Taskforce to tackle the issue of mental health among legal professionals. A bit closer to home, the Law Council of Australia has been helping to provide support resources for some time now.

Packel with Law.com notes that some of the ways firms are addressing this need include providing mindfulness and meditation apps, guest speakers on the topic of stress and positive mental health, and deemphasizing alcohol. Indeed, the use of alcohol can be very unhealthy along with the effects of stress and poor mental health. Whereas alcohol may have historically been a part of luncheons, dinners, and other meetings, it is now taking a back seat more than in previous years. Firms are also making "mental health first aid" a priority, identifying key staff members that are trained and qualified to intervene with mental health concerns.

Keeping stress levels manageable and a positive state of mind is becoming a greater priority in law firms across the world. All of these efforts are designed to keep legal staff sharp and mentally fit to do incredibly important and meaningful work. Remember to look out for yourself and those you work with and don't be afraid to let someone know if you're struggling.

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