Mental illness does not preclude success in law
There is no reason why legal professionals cannot achieve their goals if they experience struggles with their emotional and psychological wellbeing, argues David Westgate.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly ahead of his keynote address at the Minds Count Annual Lecture, self-styled “bipolar businessman and mental health advocate” David Westgate said that success and ill-health are not mutually exclusive states, but that one must find “smart ways” to get to where they want to be.
“From Lincoln and Churchill to Ellen DeGeneres and Jim Carrey, Google is littered with lists of people who have succeeded despite their battles with poor mental health, and while I don’t rank myself quite so highly, I know from personal experience that it is possible to build a successful career while battling a debilitating mental illness. I just did it the dumb way,” he reflected.
When it comes to ensuring that lawyers do not draw a nexus between their wellness and their vocational accomplishments, Mr Westgate said: “This is a classic example of ‘Do as I say, not as I do’, but I would say that the answer is to prioritise your health over your career.
“Doing so should make career success easier and more enjoyable.”
The idea that one professional success and mental ill-health can co-exist is “even more” relevant for lawyers, he continued.
“It’s just that they’re more likely to suffer in silence,” he mused.
“This is an industry renowned for driven people, billable hours and high stress. How could lawyers not suffer like the rest of us? Success and mental illness [are] not mutually exclusive, but they [are smart] ways to achieve this, and very stupid ways too.”
Furthermore, not only does ill-health not preclude one’s chances of succeeding, but there are upsides to be considered and explored, Mr Westgate concluded.
“I think the point is that lawyers should be encouraged to believe that their personal success (and the firm’s) can be even greater, if they acknowledge mental health issues and seek help for them,” he noted.
“People who turn up to work, day after day, while battling depression or severe anxiety, are incredibly strong.”