Since leaving Gleneagles Hotel at the end of February I’ve had barely any time to write about our GlenLegal conference because I’ve been immersed helping a close friend who has had a psychotic breakdown. Why am I sharing that with you here? Let me explain.
My friend – let’s call her Kate – is an exceptionally smart ex-lawyer and ‘high achiever’ who, I suspect in common with many sufferers of mental health problems, doesn’t like to talk about mental health.
She only told me she had depression last year. On a personal note, it was a relief to find out because it explained things that I had previously blamed myself for – awkwardness and a feeling of tension in our conversations, fleeting visits that ended with me wondering if it was something I’d said, and some more erratic behaviour that was, well ‘that’s just Kate.’ If that rings true of someone in your work or personal life, it should possibly also ring some alarms bells.
This year there’s been more of the erratic. Then about a month ago Kate – who was not working as a lawyer at the time – got fired, triggering a downward spiral that culminated in her thinking that the government is trying to kill her, her house is bugged, her radio and TV have been hacked, that a paedophile ring is relaying threatening messages to her, and that her children are at risk. A major psychotic breakdown triggered by stress. It is far from over.
I’ve had plenty of chance to reflect on what I personally could have done differently and the one thing I’d say and why I’m sharing this with you, is that I failed to notice many of the signs of stress because I was simply too busy: a state of being that’s endemic in the high pressure environment we all work in.
Even within firms and companies that try to be supportive of stress and mental health issues, the fast-moving culture conspires against us. We are so busy at work that we often don’t have enough time for lunch, let alone to take a few minutes to ask if that colleague, employee or friend really need to talk.
What’s more, many of us are still deeply uncomfortable even acknowledging mental health issues. You would phone your boss to say you’re off sick with a cold, but how many of you would say you’re feeling low and need 24 hours to rest? There is still a fear – rightly or wrongly, and I suspect rightly – that it will interpreted as a sign of weakness.
I am anything but an expert but I’d argue that with stress and mental ill-health now the top reasons for long term sickness, it falls to every employer to create a top-down culture where depression and stress no longer equate to weakness. And where every employee is actively encouraged, no matter how busy they are, to make the time for colleagues or friends who are exhibiting signs of stress. Trust me, it may save you countless hours down the line.
So please, take a few minutes, look around you, perhaps have a group chat about mental health and how the door is always open to anyone who feels vulnerable. Mine is a personal story, but if by acknowledging our own shortcomings and sharing our own experiences we can help even one person, it’s worth it.
Here are some links you may find useful, including the details of The Legal Professions Wellbeing Taskforce, which was initiated by the Law Society of England and Wales and is driven by LawCare, a charity which provides support to the legal community:
And don’t forget Mind (see comment below), which come into organisations to talk about mental health: https://www.mind.org.uk
If you want to flag any other useful resources, please comment below or contact me direct.