Mental health in the legal profession

CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of suicide, mental illness and discrimination against disabilities.

Last week, the Melbourne legal fraternity lost one of the good guys, Magistrate Stephen Myall. I didn’t know him personally, but many people that I know professionally did and have spoke about him with a great deal of warmth, respect and professional affection.

This job is hard. No matter what area of law that you practice, you will encounter a huge amount of stress and things that can trigger mental health issues. Many of us will enter the legal profession already dealing with mental health issues, whether we know it or not at the time. There is a certain type of high achieving, driven, stubborn type who study law and go on to be lawyers, the “Type A” personality… a stereotype which all to often masks deeper issues that may or may not be conducive to long term career sustainability.

I freely admit that I manage a mental health disability, two actually. As much as I enjoy being a lawyer, there are many reasons why I am looking for a job outside of legal practice now, and most of those reasons are to do with endemic discrimination across the legal sector for lawyers with mental health disabilities. Even though it’s common, and even though law societies and other professional bodies recommend better ways of supporting staff with mental health issues… the taint of having a mental health issue within our profession leads many of us to cover up the problem and plough on unassisted, rather than risk derision or potential career harm.

That’s a massive problem.

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