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LawCare has its 20th anniversary this year, and we are celebrating with a conference, Making Mental Health Matter, on World Mental Health Day on Tuesday 10 October. This year’s theme is mental health in the workplace, and mental health issues have been shown to increase employee absenteeism, lower rates of productivity and increase costs.
At LawCare we have witnessed a lot of growth and change in the legal profession over those two decades, as organisations start to embrace the mental health agenda and recognise the importance of looking after those who need support with mental health issues.
We have played our part, moving from being a charity with the limited remit of supporting solicitors with addiction and related problems, to one that offers help to everyone right across the legal profession throughout the UK and Ireland on a wide range of issues encompassing, among others, stress, depression, anxiety and bullying at work.
What I have observed is that gradually there has been a softening of attitudes, and it has become more acceptable to talk about these issues. At the time LawCare was set up, it was difficult for people to get support, or sympathy; no-one wanted to know. It was felt that lawyers with addiction problems were the authors of their own misfortune while those experiencing stress or depression were just not tough enough, and valuable members of the profession were getting lost as a result.
While there has been a gradual sea change, this has accelerated over the past two years. In the legal profession, this has gone hand-in-hand with what we have seen more widely in society, where celebrities and sportspeople have been talking openly about their mental health issues, the Royal Family joined the Heads Together campaign, and the government has pledged more support. We have also had campaigns such as This is Me and Time to Change reaching into our profession, as well as the formation of the City Mental Health Alliance, which is currently chaired by Nigel Jones, a partner in Linklaters.
It is very encouraging to see that the mental health agenda is being taken onboard.
And attitudes have changed. My hope for the future is that this change of attitude rolls out across all the whole profession, and that all organisations put in place strategies to support their people who have mental health issues. We are moving forward hopefully, with more awareness, and it is a continuing process. My prediction is that in another 20 years’ time, the profession will look entirely different where mental health is concerned. We’re on our way.
Bronwen Still, Chair, LawCare