‘COVID-19 has brought mental health and wellbeing into much sharper focus’

28 November 2021 By Lauren Croft

As mental health in the profession becomes particularly important post-pandemic, one lawyer is raising thousands of dollars to bring mental health to the forefront. 

This year, and every year since 2008, Clayton Utz partner Chris Slocombe has taken part in Movember – growing a moustache during the month of November to raise awareness and funds for mental health.

“Movember took on real significance for me after I returned home from London. An old friend of mine, and Clayton Utz alumnus, committed suicide just before Christmas in 2013. This shook me to my core. I just couldn’t understand what could push a young, bright and happy man to take his life.

“Since then, I have had a number of friends – who I consider to be relatively young – face testicular and prostate cancer scares. Two more friends have also committed suicide, including one earlier this year,” he said.

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“I am really worried about the mental health aftermath of COVID-19. So many sacrifices have been made to contain the spread of the virus – for good reason. However, the toll on our collective mental health is not able to be measured. I think we all need to take proactive steps to care for the mental health of those around us, and if growing a ‘mo’ and raising funds can help raise awareness and fund research, I am all in.”

Mr Slocombe has raised over $22,000 since 2008, with hopes to reach up to $7,000 by the end of November this year alone.

“As the final days of Movember draw closer, our team are developing a number of innovative and fun fundraising opportunities. We also hope to attract some donations from the Clayton Utz Foundation,” he said.

These kinds of initiatives are of the utmost importance post-pandemic, according to Clayton Utz national mental health manager Emma Howard.

“COVID-19 has brought mental health and wellbeing into much sharper focus. People have experienced a range of emotional, physical, cognitive and behavioural reactions, especially with all of the recent lockdowns,” she said.

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“Among some of the negative mental health impacts lawyers have reported include increased withdrawal and social isolation, loss of work structures and routines, mental fatigue, an absence of work/life boundaries making it hard to switch off from work, a lack of motivation, increased frustration and sense of helplessness.”

Firms have combated this by actively promoting flexible work options and supporting remote working, as well as training people to provide peer support as mental health champions and providing access to resources and tools to promote positive mental health and general wellbeing.

“I think it’s fair to say that the pandemic and its impacts saw firms exploring and embracing new possibilities in how their people work, connect with one another virtually, and take care of themselves, family members, friends, colleagues and clients during uncertain times,” added Ms Howard.

“During COVID-19, we complemented this support in other ways, including dedicated webinars, for example, on managing the psychological impacts of the pandemic, as well as advice on how to manage feelings of overwhelm and fear in returning to an office environment. We’ve also focused on specific support for leaders in how to best support their teams, noting that individuals will still be experiencing a range of responses.”

Whilst the profession has been increasingly more observant of lawyers’ mental health and wellbeing, encouraging lawyers to take care of their own wellbeing so they can better support others will be key moving forward, Ms Howard added.

“No one law firm has all the answers – but together, we can listen to each other’s experiences and share ideas, especially as we move into 2022. People will naturally still be feeling uncertain as well as overwhelmed and exhausted from nearly two years of living in the middle of a pandemic. I think it’s important for firms to remind their people that there’s only so much they can control: to spend time and energy on what they can influence and to maintain a healthy perspective,” she said.

“There’s also an important role firms have to play in encouraging, promoting and supporting men’s mental health and wellbeing, given men’s mental ill-health remains high in Australia. Through continued education and awareness, firms can equip their male workforce with the right tools to support their own mental health and those of others and know where to go for help and support.”

‘COVID-19 has brought mental health and wellbeing into much sharper focus’
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