World Mental Health Day was Friday, October 10th. How did yours go?
Did your firm or department remind you not to work such long hours that you lose your critical thinking edge or alienate the personal ties that keep you grounded and productive? Did you get a refresher on how to deal with stress and its back-breaking, mind-numbing effects? What about screening? Did anyone offer to have a professional confidentially assess your mental load and review the strategies that can lessen it?
I didn’t think so.
Although it’s not such a far-fetched proposition. There are legal cultures where just those things happen, even when it’s not World Mental Health Day. In the UK, for example, some law firms are evidently taking an interest in the mental health of their professionals.
Cited in an article last Friday in The Lawyer entitled “Firms look for ways to support lawyers’ mental health” is the stat that “a survey this week by insurance firm Friends Life revealed that 40% of those asked had concealed depression, anxiety or stress from their employer.” That’s forty percent of the general population that’s hiding their mental distress from their employers. When you consider all the data on the much higher incidence of mental distress among lawyers than any other profession, you’re starting to talk real numbers of hidden lawyer distress.
UK publication Lawyer 2B conducted a Stress in Law survey of UK lawyers this past summer which revealed that 55% said their firm had no policies to combat stress, while 17% said their firms did have such policies. The survey also identified the chief causes of stress in these lawyers as the long-hours and the difficulties of achieving a work-life balance. “Too much work and too little time to do it in was the most cited cause of stress among lawyers across all levels,” with over 70% of non-partners citing this factor as a chief cause of stress, but fewer partners naming it. The next most common cause of stress is “difficult or unpleasant superiors,” with some 44% of young lawyers citing it, dropping to 30% of all non-partners, and only 10% of partners, in part, one must imagine, because there’s no “there there” above them to complain about.
How their work affects their personal life is a stressor for 34% of the youngest lawyers, climbing to 42%, then 61 % as you advance up the seniority ladder before dropping to 44% among partners. The pressure to meet billing targets and firm bureaucracy are both issues that gradually rise as causes of stress as lawyers move up the firm, culminating in 44% of partners citing meeting billing targets as a concern. While dealing with difficult or unpleasant peers is not a major cause of stress, overly demanding clients are, even at the youngest levels.
In response to these stats, The Lawyer sees evidence of firms trying harder to support lawyers’ mental health. Clifford Chance, for example, piloted a stress-combating program for its trainees, or summer associates, and new associates which was so successful that it has been rolled out across the entire firm.
I’m betting they had a better World Mental Health Day than many of you did.