The reason why this post is so extensive is because mental health is near and dear to my heart.
Approximately 58% of lawyers in Canada have experienced 'significant' stress and burnout, 48% have experienced anxiety, and 26% have experienced depression, just over one in four of practicing lawyers (that will actually admit to it).
Law is a profession that has the highest level of stress, as well as the highest clinically registered levels of depression.
This isn't, however, simply a Canadian issue. Mental health in the profession has become a big focus since a 2016 study of almost 13,000 U.S. lawyers found “substantial rates of behavioral health problems.”
20.6 per cent screened positive for hazardous, harmful and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking;
28 per cent experienced symptoms of depression;
19 per cent showed anxiety;
23 per cent exhibited stress.
There has also been a reported 30 percent increase in mental health crises since COVID-19 happened, and a rise in opiate abuse as well.
All in all, 2020 took a toll on many people's mental health. As someone with a mental health history, it took me a while to find my spot in the legal profession, by virtue of my inability to work in certain triggering fields of the legal industry (I.E: Family Law, Criminal Law, Poverty Law, Employment Law, etc.), and also by the fact that I was a naive first-generational lawyer, with no exposure to certain areas. One area of law is just as good as another, right?
There's also factors that are thankfully dying out, but stigmas and 'old-school' attitudes that are just archaic by this point based on our knowledge of mental health and mental health law. I always found it ironic that an industry that advocates for others is so hesitant to advocate for the health of its own members.
Most of us, if we're being honest, have been at least exposed, either through second-hand horror stories or personal experiences, to an older attitude of 'sucking it up,' or 'baptism by fire.' Everyone who is now currently a lawyer had to go through a hellish articling period- why should you be any different?
And I think there's the rub in terms of perception versus reality. Individuals in the legal industry who stand up for themselves aren't spitting in the face of industry norms. They are doing what we are meant to do as legal professionals; namely, being an actual advocate for those who are the most vulnerable among us and can contribute to the industry. We arguably are simply considering more nuance and questioning the status quo, which is an important aspect of being a lawyer.
Law as a whole has had a questionable legal background to supporting (or not supporting) those who suffer from mental health in an industry that is all about self-possession and control. Australia's baseline in some states, for example, involves the ability to proficiently complete work as a solicitor or a barrister. However, this leaves issues open to those with chronic mental health issues, or diseases. How does someone who self-medicates with alcohol, but is a "functioning" alcoholic, compare to a lawyer who may have bipolar disorder, an arguably much more stigmatised disease, who may stop taking their medication before a trial due to the effect the medication may have on their ability to think coherently?
These are questions and scenarios that obviously need to be considered on a case by case basis. But with the connection between mental health and legal practice being well-established, what are some general resources we can provide for us home here in Canada?
Well, firstly. I'd like to acknowledge some of the resources I used to create this introduction, and this post as a whole. Most of the resources are directly taken from the Canadian Bar Association's website, which lists resources by province and territory already.
However, I wanted to go a step further. I wanted to include resources outside of the legal community (where some professionals may not be comfortable with going to due to perceived stigma), as well as simply providing some outlets for professionals outside the world of law. The connection between meditation, yoga, and simply taking time for yourself is all well established, but unless those resources are at hand, we often don't take advantage of them.
That is also why I included app suggestions, and just general links to things that helped me through my mental health journey. I know what it takes to balance both becoming a law professional with respecting your own mental health journey. I know the strength it takes to move past these issues and show up to work everyday despite some aspects of law being triggering, or surprising, because you want to help people. That's often why we start out in law.
So without further ado, please take note of some of the resources from this introduction, the division by province, and the extra mental health resources list, as well as just some general tips for practice.
And if you are feeling desperate, please do not hesitate to reach out to the crisis services hotline in your immediate area. People do care about you, and you are loved.
Resources for this Introduction
Be sure that the area of law you're practicing isn't contributing to the deterioration of your mental health. We all tend to have this idea of self-flagellating ourselves as lawyers or this mentality of "pushing through." Luckily, that is deadening as time goes on and we educate yourself on mental health issues, but sometimes its the material itself that can be triggering to you. For example, in a personal injury position I had, I had to read and create a memo summarizing everything in a 3,000 page, 10 year-long file, on someone else's mental health. Not exactly conducive to my own mental health (Some people are able to compartmentalise much more effectively, but I can't). Once I realised that that subject matter wasn't for me, I could look to areas of law in future job searches that would be more of a better fit, or didn't solely focus on one area of law I had difficulty with.
Be sure that the firm/organization you're working at isn't contributing to the deterioration of your mental health. Listen: Far from me to tell you not to work "BigLaw." But it takes a certain personality to thrive there. It's going to be someone who loves the fact they work in the office (metaphorically speaking, in 2021) till 3am in the morning. It's someone who flies in to their family vacations because they have to finish up deals, rather than actually making the trip with their family. It's articling students who work eighteen hour days. It's not that some people don't enjoy this (or claim to), but the older I get, the more I realise that while I enjoy helping people with their legal problems, life exists outside of work, and you can't give the best of yourself unless you take advantage of that and try to maintain (somewhat) of a balance. There's a reason why there's reportedly an 86% dropout rate of lawyers in bigger firms after two years. They burn out, and they want to either distance themselves from the practice of law entirely, or completely fall into the 'sunken cost' fallacy that their education cost so much, that they have no choice but to stick it through. Don't be that person. You have choices.
Be honest with what makes you tick in the first place, even if it's a less "prestigious" firm, and you'll be a lot happier in the long run.
Be sure you're putting yourself or your time with loved ones first. As my brother says, "It's a cliche for a reason." You need to put yourself first before you can help anyone else. You're not going to get a file done without wanting to roll under the nearest car if you're unable to think clearly. Make sure you replenish your "cup" of energy before pouring some out to others.
If you're still in school/ considering law schools, make sure you consider how much the law school will support your neurodiversity: Some law schools are a bit more archaic than others, if I'm being perfectly honest. Make sure you do your research and give yourself your best chance to succeed by considering how the law schools you are applying to will/won't support your neurodiversity or mental health issues.
You can handle your work but not your mental health- Don't work in a silough. Look- if something is bothering you at work, and you feel like you don't have someone who will understand and you can commiserate without spilling confidential information everywhere, life is going to be a lot harder. My first mistake when getting into law, being an extremely self-sufficient and independent person, was doing my usual- namely, keeping my head down and doing my work.
But when that's all you do, even if you enjoy your own company more than others, and all you're doing is just commuting to and fro from work, doing work, and then coming home and sleeping because you're too mentally exhausted to do anything else, life can become quite depressing and monotonous. So my last piece of advice, even in a pandemic, is...
Build a network. At work, in the broader legal community- people you can commiserate with, who even if you mention you're struggling mentally, they might have some suggestions for you to make your life easier (Plus you might actually make the "f" word: Friends!).
Personal Note: I have used the LAPBC personally and it really helped to bridge the gap for me in terms of mental health support between the jump from law school to actually practicing law.
"LAWYERS ASSISTANCE PROGRAM OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
LAPBC provides confidential outreach, education, support and referrals to lawyers and other members of the legal community to help them deal with personal issues. These may include problems such as alcohol and drug dependence, depression, stress and anxiety, among others.
By phone 24/7: 1-888-685-2171
In person: 415 – 1080 Mainland Street, Vancouver
By confidential email: firstname.lastname@example.org."
"ALBERTA ASSIST - ALBERTA LAWYERS' ASSISTANCE SOCIETY
Assist provides confidential help to lawyers, law students and their immediate families experiencing personal issues. Assist pays for up to four hours of professional counselling time offered by Forbes Psychological Services. Your time can be used to assess the issues you are facing, and to offer short-term counselling and a referral to long-term sources of help, when needed.
Assist also offers a peer support program delivered by volunteer lawyers, who provide a link for Alberta lawyers to address personal and professional issues in a safe and confidential environment.
Peer Support Help Line: 1-877-737-5508
Professional Counselling 24/7: 1-877-498-6898."
"LAW SOCIETY OF MANITOBA
The Lawyers Health and Wellness Program is a free and confidential service that offers crisis intervention and assistance, as well as short-term counselling, to practising lawyers and articling students in Manitoba and their families.
By phone: 1-204-786-8880 or 1-800-590-5553
Deaf Access Line: 1-204-775-0586
MANITOBA BAR ASSOCIATION
Lawyers Helping Lawyers is a group of lawyers committed to helping other lawyers enjoy their life and law practice to the fullest. Contact one of our trained volunteer lawyers.
Through this free service, the Equity Ombudsperson can:
Help to resolve individual discrimination and harassment concerns
Act as a sounding board in dealing with internal office concerns or complaints
Provide educational seminars and speak about respectful workplace issues for legal offices
Assist in the development and implementation of policies and procedures
CONTACT THE EQUITY OMBUDSPERSON
By phone: 1-204-942-2002 or 1-866-771-2002
QUEEN'S BENCH INFORMAL CONCERNS
Queen's Bench Justices, Masters, registry staff and lawyers can have their concerns about one another aired in this informal, confidential forum. Committee members are available for one-on-one discussions about problems that do not warrant a more serious intervention. Contact a committee member.
PROVINCIAL COURT INFORMAL CONCERNS
Provincial Court Judges and lawyers can discuss their concerns about one another one-on-one with a committee member in this informal, confidential forum. Contact a committee member."
"Lawyers in the Northwest Territories can access help through Homewood Health, which offers the following programs and services:
Stay-at-Work Services offer assistance to address personal and professional challenges such as anger, grief, stress and mental health issues to help keep employees healthy and productive.
Return-to-Work Services offer assistance from a team of health professionals to allow employees to return to work successfully.
Treatment Services offer customized treatment plans to help employees achieve physical and mental wellness.
By phone: 1-800-663-1142 or 1-888-384-1152 (TTY for the hearing or speech impaired)."
"ASSIST – NUNAVUT LAWYERS ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS
Assist provides confidential help to lawyers, law students and their immediate families experiencing personal issues. Assist pays for up to four hours of professional counselling time offered by Forbes Psychological Services. You can use your time to have your issues assessed, access short-term counselling or get a referral to long-term sources of help.
Assist also offers a peer support program delivered by volunteer lawyers, who provide a link for lawyers to address personal and professional issues in a safe and confidential environment.
Peer Support Help Line: 1-877-737-5508
Professional Counselling 24/7: 1-877-498-6898."
"LAWYERS CONCERNED FOR LAWYERS INC.
Delivered through Homewood Health, this service offers free, confidential 24/7 support to Saskatchewan lawyers, articling students, law students or their eligible family members for problems related to:
Anger, anxiety, depression or grief
Career and work
Family and relationships
By phone: 1-800-663-1142."
"LAWYER ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
PAMBA offers confidential support and counselling services for alcoholism, drug addiction, burnout, stress or other mental health and wellness issues. Services are available to members of the Quebec Bar 24/7.
For members dealing with alcohol addiction, the peer support group Juri-Secours meets weekly in the Outaouais, Montreal and Quebec City. Find out about your local meetings.
By phone: 1-514-286-0831 or 1-800-747-2622
By email (mark as confidential): email@example.com
NOTARY ASSISTANCE PROGRAM – PROGRAMME D'AIDE AUX NOTAIRES
The Programme d'aide aux notaires offers assistance for all types of personal problems including stress, burnout, addictions, marital difficulties, financial distress and depression.
By phone: 1-888-687-9197 or 418-687-9197."
I also am familiar with McGill's counselling services and both the Montreal Jewish Hospital and the Montreal Children's Hospital. All three really supported my time through undergraduate studies, and if you are in Montreal for your legal studies and looking for support, I highly recommend reaching out to them for help.
"PEI LAWYERS’ ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
This program provides lawyers, judges, law students and their family members with access to free and confidential one-on-one professional counselling services through Homewood Health. Services assist with depression, addictions, grief, family troubles, financial or work difficulties. Access free bilingual, confidential help 24/7.
By phone: 1-800-663-1142 or 1-888-384-1152 (TTY for the hearing or speech impaired)."
"MEMBER ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
The MAP is a confidential service designed to help lawyers, paralegals, law students, judges, other legal professionals and family members achieve health and wellness goals. The service provides online information, tools and resources on topics such as:
Anxiety and depression
Marital or relationship challenges
Separation and divorce
Members can register for e-counselling by chat or email. You also have access to a comprehensive Health Risk Assessment, self-directed e-courses, wellness recordings and videos.
FIND OUT MORE
Visit the Member Assistant Program website."
NEW BRUNSWICK LAWYERS' ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
The Lawyers' Assistance Program (NBLAP) is a confidential service offering counselling, coaching and support to respond to any circumstance that affects your health, well-being and professional life. Services are available in person, by telephone or online at no cost to you. Appointments can be made quickly and locally, with your convenience in mind. Register using NBLAP as your company name to access the Homewood website homeweb.ca resources, assessments and articles.
This program is available to New Brunswick lawyers, employees, judges, articling and law students and their families.
For free confidential help call:
"NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
THE LAW SOCIETY OF NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR – PROFESSIONALS' ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
The Professionals' Assistance Program offers assistance to lawyers, articled clerks, students and their families who need support. Homewood Health offers 24/7 counselling for personal and family-related issues or life events, including:
Aging and caregiving
Anxiety, anger management, depression, stress and grief
Child development and adolescent issues
Relationship and family issues
By phone: 1-709-754-3007 or 1-800-563-9133."
"LAW SOCIETY OF YUKON – YUKON LAWYERS ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
Available 24/7, YLAP assists members of the legal profession who may be experiencing work or personal problems related to family, relationships, health, drug, alcohol or gambling issues.
By phone: 1-867-668-4231
Urgent after-hours calls: 1-867-332-4018
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org"
Know that you have advocates in your corner- both literally and figuratively. The Canadian Bar Association ('CBA') has a whole section on mental health resources, which can be found here.
"Confidential assistance is also available to Canadian Judges through the Judges Counselling Program. The program offers confidential counselling support and work-life solutions to federally and provincially appointed active and retired Judges, Justices of the Peace, Masters, Prothonotaries and their families. Call 1-866-872-6336. Support is also available in person or online.
WELLNESS FOR LAWYERS
Mental Health Briefs – Ontario Bar Association
Mental Health Interview Series – Ontario Bar Association
Mental Health Resources – American Bar Association
Mental and Psychological Wellbeing – BC Bar Association
Stress Management – Alberta Assist
Workplace Strategies for Mental Health – Great West Life
Workplace Wellness Resources – Alberta Assist
Overcoming Addiction – Alberta Assist
GENERAL MENTAL HEALTH
Mental health and the COVID-19 pandemic
Healthy Canadians – Mental health
Mental Health Commission of Canada
Mood Disorders Society of Canada"
Usually this is where I'd recommend some of the things I personally do to keep my mental health together. Play sports. Attend hot yoga.
But with 2021 commencing and there seemingly no end in sight to the current COVID-19 pandemic, I think it's more important to highlight things we can actually do in our current predicament.
Attend the gym if you're allowed to in your province: Sounds simple, but I will always quote Elle Woods from Legally Blonde on this: "Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't kill their husbands. They just don't."
See if any of your favourite physical activities have transferred online: People have become inventive in the middle of COVID. There are now online choirs, online networking and game nights; even yoga instructors such as those at Oxygen Yoga and Fitness are now doing online streams of classes they would usually post in person. Don't allow your life to just fall into a constant stream of just staying at home, isolating yourself from others, and staying within the same three rooms all day. Make sure you get a base level of socialisation, or even go for a short walk for some fresh air.
Start a new habit (or pick up an old one): Get back to writing snail-mail to a friend as a pen pal, pick up that instrument you haven't touched in years, and try to get back into something that makes you happy and you never had time for before. Just for the sake of it.
Make your life easier with apps: Apps can be helpful- and also overwhelming. I know the way I personally work around them being overwhelming is turning the notifications off, and simply accessing them when needed. Some of my favourite apps to just while away some brainspace involve Candy Crush, the Harry Potter game, and Spotify, as well as an app called Alarmy, which sets a wakeup sound that isn't set up to knock your head in like the preprogrammed alarms on the standard iPhone, and also requires you to set a mental test so you're forced to start thinking earlier in the morning. You can choose from a math test, a matching test, all at a super easy level- it's just set up to get your brain flowing earlier in the morning and get your life moving earlier without you wanting to smash your phone against a wall.
I know friends who are lawyers who swear by both the Calm app for meditation, and Todoist for keeping track of their life day-by-day. The best thing about Todoist is that you can literally move tasks you don't complete on one day to the next day, or to an assigned day in the future, and then you don't feel as though you haven't finished something by the time you leave the office. Mod cons!
Lastly, I also made this little self-care printable for anyone who might need it. Print it out, and on a particularly hard day, choose one to make your life easier.
All the best, and you're not alone.
Lauren S xx