Identifying the Issues Leading to Mental Health Problems
As we learned in law school, the first step in addressing a problem is to identify the “issues.” What issues are leading to deteriorating mental health among legal professionals? Whether you are working remotely or in a physical setting, there are common threads that lead to mental health challenges for legal professionals:
- Actual and/or perceived lack of empathy and/or resources that address mental health
- Changes in work environments and/or responsibilities
- Disengagement with work
- Dissatisfaction with work
- Feelings of always being “on” and accessible
- Feeling undervalued
- Increased or unbalanced workloads
- Traditional demands and stressors of the legal profession
Proactively Addressing Mental Health
Let’s rewind again to law school and spend more of our discussion on the “analysis” by discussing the next steps to strengthening the mental health of legal professionals.
Consider this: At the beginning of every year, many of us have expressed our intent to strengthen our physical health and, recently, to strengthen our immune systems. This may include exercising and moving more, joining a gym, refraining from or reducing our consumption of food and beverages that are not in alignment with achieving our physical health goals—the list goes on and on. We often share these goals with family members and friends and post them and our activities on social media to have a level of accountability tied to our efforts.
But how many of us intentionally and proactively set such intentions and goals for our mental health? We may declare that we will practice more self-care, but do we engage in activities, or refrain from activities, that impact the core of our mental health? Do we share that we need help and accountability in this area?
Conversations about mental health may be particularly challenging for legal professionals because lawyers have an image of being natural problem solvers, unusually strong and tough, and resourceful enough to obtain the necessary help if needed. Furthermore, a few barriers to improving mental health include the stigma associated with mental health; the time and resources it may take for us to invest in our mental health; and, most importantly, recognizing when help is needed.
Helping Others with Mental Health Issues
If you are in an organization and you recognize that your employees or colleagues are experiencing mental health issues, one of the most basic things that you can do is lend an ear. Show your concern and allow them the opportunity to talk about any areas of dissatisfaction and frustration openly and privately, as well as those aspects of their jobs and the organization with which they are satisfied.
If an employee or colleague is distressed about physical reporting requirements, take a moment to assess that individual’s concerns and situation. Can they be resolved even temporarily with a changed schedule, workload, and/or hours? Should there be a shift within any of the internal teams? Are your employees or colleagues feeling pressured to perform? Are contributions and wins acknowledged and celebrated? Note that in this time of flexible/hybrid/fully remote/fully on-site work environments, a one-size-fits-all approach to these questions may not be feasible, so try to focus on fairness.
Furthermore, consider whether there any formal or informal employee wellness initiatives that you can implement, no matter the size of your organization. Perhaps it’s time for your organization to enlist the efforts of an outside workplace professional or service to assess your organization and recommend strategies to improve the morale and the culture of your work environment, which may lead to the overall success of your organization.
Helping Yourself with Mental Health Issues
If you are an employee who feels as if you are facing mental health challenges, try to recognize the mental and physical signs that you may be experiencing that require further attention and assistance. These can include feelings of apathy, appetite changes, burnout, fatigue, headaches, weight loss or weight gain, changes to your usual consumption of food and/or alcoholic beverages, overzealousness, unexplainable or unpredictable moods, and withdrawal.
Seek out trusted resources; these include confidential sources identified on your own and those located through an employee assistance program or via referrals from family and friends. Furthermore, try to make sure that you are eating a well-balanced diet; getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night; exercising/moving regularly; meditating; self-reflecting; reading; resting; remaining properly hydrated; and avoiding overexposure to negative news and people, as well as electronic devices.
We often pay attention to making sure that our phones and cars are in top working order while neglecting the signs and signals that our bodies and minds send to us. Just like our phones and cars, we require maintenance! It is often necessary to disconnect, power down, check levels, and fully recharge in order to function optimally.
So, take the time to pause, search, and engage in more focused efforts to bring attention to and raise awareness of strengthening the mental health and well-being of the people in our profession. Most of us would agree that one of the reasons we entered this profession was to help humanity. Now, more than ever, may be the time when you can help—other lawyers as well as yourself—in ways unimaginable when you first chose a legal career.