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John Vander Luit

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Are we surviving or thriving?

Are we surviving or thriving?


In the increasingly demanding and changing legal environment, resilience is important, writes Elizabeth Rimmer

The theme for 2017's Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from May 8-14, is 'Surviving or Thriving?' and this year, rather than asking why so many people are living with mental health problems, the aim is to uncover why too few of us are thriving with good mental health.

Good mental health is more than the absence of a mental health problem: some of us are struggling to cope with the demands of life, and are stuck on just getting through the day.

We all have mental health, and it includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, and it affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health issues range from the worries we all experience as part of everyday life, to serious long-term conditions. It can be easy to dismiss mental health problems as something that happen to other people, but research shows that one in four of us will experience them each year. And the legal community is no exception.

Many legal professionals are reluctant to talk openly about mental health in the workplace, for fear they may be perceived as weak or not coping with the demands of their role.

Our goal during MHAW is to get the legal community talking about mental health. We want legal practices to positively address mental health issues in the workplace, but it's not always easy to recognise the signs that you or someone you work with is experiencing a problem. These are the common ones to look out for:

'¢ Out-of-character behaviour such as irritability, mood swings, anger or short temper;

'¢ Lack of energy, concentration, and motivation;

'¢ Frequent bouts of illness;

'¢ Problems with sleeping;

'¢ Panic attacks: these can happen suddenly, and include feeling sick, short of breath, shaking, sweating;

'¢ Failure to achieve targets despite apparent commitment and long hours;

'¢ Overconfidence despite making mistakes;

'¢ Withdrawal from usual social interaction and hobbies;

'¢ Deteriorating relationships with managers and/or colleagues;

'¢ Neglect of personal dress and hygiene; and

'¢ Increasing use of alcohol/coming into the workplace smelling of alcohol.

A combination of these behaviours could signal mental health issues, and that it's time to think about seeking information, support, and reassurance.

In the increasingly demanding and changing legal environment, resilience is important to thrive. Resilience is defined as the ability to resist or bounce back from adversity, and in any workplace there will be people who thrive on challenges and difficulties, while others will find it hard to cope with unexpected change or problems.

Highly resilient people are flexible, adapt to new circumstances quickly, and thrive in times of constant change. Most importantly, they expect to bounce back, and feel confident that they will. That expectation is closely linked to a general sense of optimism, and finding the positive aspects in most situations is a skill that can be evolved: the right mental attitude to cope, and even flourish, when the going gets tough, can be developed.

Ten tips to build resilience:

'¢ Learn to see challenges, mistakes, and failures as valuable learning experiences;

'¢ Give ourselves a pat on the back when things go well. Be kind and forgive ourselves when things go wrong;

'¢ Don't give in to negative thoughts. Challenge them, and ask whether they are true or realistic;

'¢ Use humour to defuse and downplay difficulties. We can laugh at ourselves and situations;

'¢ Be flexible. Recognise that nothing stays the same, especially in the workplace;

'¢ Take care of physical and mental health. Get enough sleep, exercise, and eat well. When our physical self is in good shape, we are less fragile;

'¢ Take time off work, use holiday entitlements, and take breaks during the working day;

'¢ Recognise that a bad situation is usually temporary;

'¢ Build a support network. Make time for friends and family who offer encouragement and strength. Consult supportive work colleagues; and

'¢ Don't extrapolate one bad situation into another unrelated situation. We can't be good at everything, so recognise areas of strength.

Attitude and perspective are fundamental to building resilience: paying attention to strengths and how to develop them, learning to accept that things won't always go well, focusing on what is working rather than what's not, and we will all be on our way to thriving, rather than just surviving.

Elizabeth Rimmer is CEO of LawCare @LawCareLtd

LawCare supports and promotes good mental health and wellbeing across the legal community. We understand life in the law, and have helped thousands of legal professionals cope with a range of issues that may be compromising their mental health and wellbeing. Our key support service is our free, confidential and independent helpline, and our trained staff and volunteers listen and provide emotional support. Call 0800 279 6888 or visit