Bell Let's Talk

On Jan 30, 2019 the Young Lawyers Advisory Committee (YLAC) of the CBABC branch initiated a social media campaign as part of Bell’s Let’s Talk Day. 

They shared stories, tips, resources and advice based on their own experiences, peer learning and well-documented research on the incidence of anxiety,
depression, substance abuse and other mental health concerns in the legal profession.

The campaign encouraged dialogue regarding mental health issues and offered information and resources to promote mental wellness and reduce the stigma of mental illness among lawyers.

Learn how you can cope or help others with mental health issues on #BellLetsTalk Day. 

Explore the issues below: 

Issue 1: Alcohol and Substance Addiction

An ABA study found a strong correlation between problematic use of alcohol and other substances and being in the early stages of a law career. Learn more about alcohol addiction in the legal profession.

Issue 2: Seeking Help

The stigma of mental illness prevents many from seeking help when they need it most. Read more about how you can help yourself and others.

Issue 3: Mental Health Initiatives

Stories of proactive and supportive law firms in the context of mental health are the exception but we should aim for it to be the norm. Learn how some law firms support their associates.

Issue 4: Work-Life Balance

Achieving work-life balance and prioritizing self-care can prevent high levels of continuous stress and lawyer burnout. Read young lawyers’ perspectives on this topic.

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Stats: An American Bar Association (ABA) study in 2016 explored substance use among lawyers, including alcohol and various classes of legal and illegal drugs. Researchers found that more than 36% of respondents provided answers consistent with problematic drinking or dependence. Of those that felt their use of alcohol or other substances was problematic, the vast majority reported this problematic use began either in law school or within the first 15 years of practice. Based on these findings, the study concluded that being in the early stages of one’s legal career is strongly correlated with a high risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. Notably, three quarters of respondents did not choose to answer questions regarding consumption of licit and illicit drugs, highlighting lawyers’ extreme reluctance to divulge information regarding drug use and addiction. - The Law Society of BC, Mental Health Task Force Interim Report

Story: "Shortly before I was called to the Bar, my father passed away from a decades-long struggle with alcohol addiction. I had cut him out of my life in an effort to maintain my own sanity, and I thought that I had everything under control.

His death brought on a period of grief, but also forced me to come to terms with my own emotions about the issue. It didn’t help that I had chosen a profession that encouraged drinking. I felt that I had to drink at legal functions and at the firm to fit in. If I didn’t have a drink in my hand, people would comment or go off and get me one. As a junior lawyer, I didn’t think I could say no.

Eventually, I got to the point where I could no longer hold it together. I knew about the Lawyers Assistance Program, so I gave them a call. [They] listened to me and helped me understand my co-dependency. [They] worked with me for quite a while, and helped me navigate my way through that dark time in my life.

I am so grateful that I did not have to go through it alone. I don’t think I could have. Reaching out to someone for help was the best decision I made." 

- CBABC Member, anonymous

Conversation points:

  • Have you ever felt the pressure to drink because you are a part of the legal profession?
  • Do you instigate a drinking culture at your firm or at professional events?
  • How do you manage the pressure to drink alcohol?

Solution 1: De-emphasize alcohol at social events and eliminate stigmatizing not drinking, or seeking help for problem drinking.

Solution 2: Understand and respect others’ choice not to drink. Just as it is not ok to tell a vegetarian to “just have a little bit of meat,” it is not ok to tell someone to “just have a little to drink.” There is no need to comment, offer, or go get them a drink.

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Stat: "It is well documented that those in the legal profession struggle with a variety of mental health disorders — particularly depression and anxiety — and problematic alcohol use, more so than the general population and the majority of other professionals." - The Law Society of BC, Mental Health Task Force Interim Report

Story: "I had a very difficult experience at work one year.  It got to the point where I was on the verge of tears every time I talked about it, or even thought about it. Friends and family said I should try counselling. Even though I knew it would probably be helpful, it took me about six months before I finally attended. I had been thinking about doing it for some time, but it felt like just another item on my already very long to do list.

One of the reasons I finally went was because a good friend of mine discussed her experience and how therapeutic she found the process. Although I went to my first counselling session intending to talk about entirely different issues, one of the first things I ended up discussing was that negative work experience.  I immediately burst into tears.

Six months later, it was obviously still weighing on me heavily.  Today, I am still carrying that weight around, but the burden is lighter.  If it hadn’t been for my friend being so open about discussing her experience, I may never have gone to counselling.”

- CBABC Member, anonymous

Conversation point: How do you approach a colleague who you suspect may be in trouble?

Solution 1: Webinar recordings on health and wellness issues impacting the legal profession in Canada, procrastination, coping with adversity in the workplace, and mentally healthy workplaces in the legal sector. 

Mental Health and Wellness in the Legal Profession – Online course on mental health and wellness in the legal profession, created as a result of a partnership between the CBA, the Mood Disorders Society of Canada and Bell Let’s Talk. 

Solution 2: Work collectively to eliminate the stigma that is prevalent in the profession with regard to asking for help; programs such as the Lawyers Assistance Program have made strides in this regard but more can be done.

Foster greater openness and dialogue surrounding the issue of mental health and overall well-being. Why restrict the promotion of this discussion to a single day in the year? There should be a constant dialogue around this important issue.

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Stat: "Our profession is at a crossroads. Our current course, one involving widespread disregard for lawyer well-being and its effects, is not sustainable… Our members suffer at alarming rates from conditions that impair our ability to function at levels compatible with high ethical standards and public expectations. Depression, anxiety, chronic stress, burnout, and substance use disorders exceed those of many other professions. We have ignored this state of affairs long enough… As a profession, we have the capacity to face these challenges and create a better future for our lawyers that is sustainable. We can do so – not in spite of – but in pursuit of the highest professional standards, business practices and ethical ideals." – The Law Society of BC, Mental Health Task Force Interim Report

Story: "Working in a large law firm, there can be a sense that taking time off for mental health issues is inappropriate, as compared with a visible, physical illness. This pressure or guilt about needing to be away from the office, and fear that colleagues will forever judge you after time away, can be even more crippling when already dealing with a serious mental health episode or a family member’s mental illness.

When a close family member committed suicide, I was devastated. My own mental health issues became very difficult to manage, and I couldn’t focus on regular conversations let alone legal work. My firm was incredibly supportive. They didn’t question for a second my need to be away from the office. Everyone stepped in and picked up projects that I simply had to drop. They put me in touch with a grief counsellor. Their understanding and support were key in being able to manage my own health and deal with the grief and anger that go along with a loved one’s suicide.

Let’s hope that this kind of reaction of care and empathy, and recognizing the seriousness of mental health alongside other “traditional” illnesses, will become the norm not the exception."

CBABC Member, anonymous

Conversation point: What can law firms do to support their associates?

Solutions:

CBA Wellness Forum: Webinar recordings on health and wellness issues impacting the legal profession in Canada, procrastination, coping with adversity in the workplace, and mentally healthy workplaces in the legal sector.

Mental Health and Wellness in the Legal ProfessionOnline course on mental health and wellness in the legal profession, created as a result of a partnership between the CBA, the Mood Disorders Society of Canada and Bell Let’s Talk.

The Mindful Lawyer Series: Free modules for CBA members on being a happier lawyer, finding and providing support, thriving at work and achieving a healthy and balanced lifestyle, and re-entry support after a mental health leave

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Stat: In 2012, the CBA commissioned a survey of CBA members on wellness issues. The survey found that stress/burnout was the most prevalent issue in the eyes of lawyers, judges, and law students, with a near-consensus at 94% of all respondents. - The Law Society of BC, Mental Health Task Force Interim Report

“Boundaries are limits that determine where one person ends and the world at large begins. They are essential to living a healthy and anxiety-free life. Identify what demands you are willing to accept from your work, friends and home life and don’t allow anyone to persuade you to compromise on those limits. ‘No.’ is a complete sentence.” – Jerry Steele, Five Tips: For maintaining a healthy sense of balance while practicing law

Story: "Everyone needs to be able to decompress after a hearing. I have gone from finishing a 3-day trial on a Friday, into an oral hearing starting the following Monday. As the "old" team was going for celebratory drinks Friday afternoon, I was heading back to the office for a meeting with the "new" team to get ready for Monday morning.

Not considering having had to juggle prep work for weeks preceding the two matters, it was exhausting having no decompression time built in. As the junior on both files, I had voiced my concerns about jumping right into a hearing after the trial finished. I would have no decompression time. No time to let my brain relax!"

The partners told me "all the other juniors were just as busy," "it would be a great experience" and something about my "millennial attitude." When both matters finally finished, I was exhausted, burnt-out, and generally apathetic. My routine had fallen apart: I couldn't remember the last time I'd gone to the gym and I was surviving on take-out. While this was an extreme case (and I did learn a lot), I didn't feel supported."

- CBABC Member, anonymous

Conversation points:

  • How do we prevent the ominous “burn out” that is constantly alluded to?
  • How can young lawyers approach senior lawyers when mental health is a concern with respect to deadlines, work hours, pressure?
  • How can young lawyers better recognize their own limitations?  Is saying “no” an actual option?
  • Is the lofty ideal of a work/life balance more than an illusion and how does one achieve it?
  • How do young lawyers prioritize physical wellness (sleep, exercise, eating well) when they do not control their schedules?
  • How do you fit exercise into your busy schedule?

Solutions:

The CBABC Young Lawyer Advisory Committee (YLAC) envisions a legal profession where mental health days or personal days are more widely accepted. 

YLAC members suggestions for maintaining a healthy work-life balance: 

  • Exercise with a friend or co-worker for motivation
  • Meditate for 5-10 minutes at a time
  • Take regular breaks from work
  • Yoga
  • Run
  • Use a sit/stand desk
  • Play with your dog (if you're lucky enough to have one) 
  • Get a massage 
  • Do something on the weekends
    • "Since it's winter, I try to ski every weekend. If I fill up my weekend with something that gets me out of the house, I feel recharged and refreshed when I go back to work on Monday."          - YLAC Member
  • Walk it off. Preferably in nature.