Last month the Law Society’s Junior Lawyer Division published a survey on stress levels within newly qualified solicitors.
The reported data was startling; 93% had recently suffered stress and 26% reported as being severely or extremely stressed.
Or was it? Maybe this is an industry that has not caught up with the national picture that 1 in 6 of us in work have experienced a mental health issue. We all have a state of mental health. Education levels or employment status in and of themselves do not protect us from from poor mental health.
Furthermore, we all use the word ‘stress’ freely in the workplace and beyond. It can absolutely be a sign that a conversation is needed. But, given that stress is not a diagnosis, what do we mean by stress? is it because our grocery delivery didn’t turn up in time, our children or partner is being difficult or do we really mean that we are in a state of distress and struggling to cope with our workload or situations in our personal life? Maybe it would help if we stopped using this term as a measure of our mental health and instead started asking about distress. This would really give us an indication of the level of concern and the immediacy of action required, particularly in industries where stress- the exertion of pressure- is not only an accepted condition of most roles, but can be a driving force for achievement?
This aside, the survey does reveal some concerning data; Almost three-quarters of junior Lawyers surveyed stated that their employer did not provide any help, guidance or support in relation to mental health in the workplace or they did not know if their employer did.
Not surprisingly given this fact, of the 25% who had suffered with a mental health problem in the past month, less than 24% had made their employer aware of it. And over 74% of these employees had considered taking time off work, but didn’t.
In an industry where sharp intellect and judgement are of paramount importance in significant decisions affecting people, both personally and financially it seems almost frivolous that most of the industry has not woken up to the concern of presenteeism or ‘absenteesim whilst at work’.
Surveys and helplines all chip away at reducing the stigma around mental health, however step changes will only come when culture changes within the workplace; when environments are created where even lawyers can talk openly about their mental health in the same way we talk about physical health. This doesn’t happen overnight; education in mental health literacy is a priority, supported by line manager skills training and then an ongoing programme of awareness, embedding messages until it become business as usual.
At Mental Health at Work we are already taking a number of progressive law firms on this journey. If you would like to have a conversation about how we can help you begin this journey, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org