Angus Lyon, LawCare volunteer and former solicitor who now works counselling lawyers online, writes about anxiety in the legal profession for Mental Health Awareness Week.
There’s an old New Yorker cartoon by Danny Shanahan.
Panel 1 shows Timmy floundering in a fast flowing river. His dog sees him from the bank. Timmy shouts, “LASSIE! GET HELP!!”
In panel 2 Lassie is lying on a shrink’s couch having therapy.
Who knows what happened to Timmy? There’s the implication of a sinister ending, but let’s just assume Lassie played her part in his rescue and then needed trauma counselling herself.
Lawyers’ workloads can be overwhelming, deadlines barely attainable, costs targets continually ratcheting up, office politics draining, anxiety levels rising and rising, and …
And sometimes it can feel like we’re drowning.
And sometimes we need to look after ourselves.
This year, from 15 May, the theme of the Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘anxiety’.
Working with stressed out lawyers over the years, I have seen that unbearable anxiety in its many forms is at the core of most of their experience.
Anxiety describes feelings of unease, worry and fear. It incorporates both the emotions and the physical sensations you might experience when you are worried or nervous about something. If your feelings of anxiety are very strong, or last for a long time, it can be overwhelming.
The statistics tell us that in England at least one in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year and that one in six reports experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week*. That’s a lot of people. And many of them are lawyers. Maybe you? Maybe your staff?
But anxiety is good for us.
It warns and protects us from real danger. The problems come when it’s imagined or exaggerated or unrealistic.
It’s as old as mankind. Around 2,500 years ago Hippocrates, then later on Cicero and Seneca and others were identifying and distinguishing forms of anxiety. And they developed CBT-type remedies for it.
“Men are lords in riches … and yet, within the home, they still have the anxious heart which vexes life unpausingly with torments of the mind”, wrote Epicurius. Times may change but the human condition remains a constant. Thoughts and emotions and bodily responses can knot us up inside and money is a poor medicine.
So, what can we do?
When I first started researching lawyer wellbeing over a decade ago there were few good resources around. Now we’re spoilt for choice. But the wealth of available guidance can be overwhelming.
So, where do we start?
Well, maybe try here:
- LawCare, the mental wellbeing charity for the legal profession, offers help in many ways:
- Confidential emotional support via telephone helpline, online chat, email and peer support;
- A free 20-minute presentation for organizations;
- Fit for Law – two free online courses;
- Online resources;
- Training; and
- Help with the cost of professional therapy where appropriate.
And on 18 May, during the awareness week, LawCare is running a lunchtime webinar on lawyer anxiety.
2. The Mental Health Foundation’s site has more practical and evidence-based resources.
3. In late 2019 The Law Society published its Guidance for best practice in supporting wellbeing in the workplace. It’s free and I suspect was largely overlooked by the distractions of lockdown. If you are looking for a practical and comprehensive way of creating a healthier, happier workplace just download it and ransack it.
Help is out there for you and your staff.
You don’t need to drown.
Angus Lyon practised as a solicitor for almost 40 years and now works counselling lawyers online at restart-one.com. He is the author of A Lawyer’s Guide to Wellbeing and Managing Stress (Ark Group 2015).