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Marilyn Stowe

Partner, Stowe Family Law LLP

Should mental health be a private matter?

Should mental health be a private matter?


Sharing our own mental health experiences may help combat stigma and help others feel less alone – lawyers included. But Marilyn Stowe is wary about the shift towards openness

As life resumes from where we left off in spring 2019, thoughts inevitably turn to the future. Has a lawyer’s working life changed irrevocably and if so, for good or bad?

I’ve noticed on social media there is an overwhelming desire to work from home, but many lawyers are also increasingly highlighting their own mental health issues to praise from colleagues for their courage in coming forward. 

It would be ridiculous to pretend that throughout my career, like most of us, I wasn’t occasionally bedevilled by anxiety and even full-blown panic attacks, some of which at the time were overwhelming. But, when such a challenge presented itself, I battled through, eventually recognising what was happening to me, unpleasant as it was, with the help of my doctor.

Tomorrow comes like it or not and what was bad then, does eventually disappear from the memory. Yet it still has its cumulative effect on all of us. I don’t think it’s possible to be a lawyer, to run a firm, deal with admin and finances, represent emotional clients, work in
a highly stressed field without it leaving a mark on mental and in some cases, physical health.

Anxious lawyers cooped up at home with no company, staring into a monitor, under pressure 24/7 to respond to a client, pressing send on social media, have my sympathy.

While in practice, I used my media platform only to promote my firm and myself as its head. My private life remained private.

Today, things have changed. There is a different perspective among young lawyers. They are unafraid to commit their own mental health issues to public discussion. They are congratulated for doing so. They encourage others in similar situations to come forward. Why keep quiet?

To me, however, there is a world of difference between seeking help for any mental health or physical illness, which must be encouraged and certainly was in my firm when I was working – and publicly discussing your own health and anxieties, or those of your firm, on social media.

Is it appropriate for a firm to publicly congratulate itself on mental health care of its employees? Is it appropriate for a lawyer to publicly discuss their own struggles, given a potential client might worry their own case will come a distant second?

This doesn’t seem to be taken into account. A perspective created by a different-thinking generation has arisen. Social media for some has become not about PR, but a confessional.

Yet, I would caution that all media is public and mostly irrevocable. It can bite back hard as some lawyers have recently found in other areas. It should be treated respectfully and warily for the beast it is, and have carefully defined boundaries.

Immediate ‘likes’ and comradely approval may be gratifying, but I still don’t see it as professionally wise for the lawyer, the firm or their clients.

For anyone in need of support, LawCare provides a free confidential helpline, email and online chat support for the legal profession. Visit or call 0800 279 6888

Marilyn Stowe is the retired founder of Stowe Family Law