Justice Katzmann, who sits on the Federal Court of Australia, said the legal profession has long been in denial about the prevalence of depression and anxiety.
“I have been a member of the legal profession for more than 35 years,” she said. “For a good deal of that time, we pretended that mental health was not an issue.”
She suggested lawyers prided themselves on presenting “an image of strength and invulnerability”.
“We were the problem solvers, so how could we have problems of our own? But none of us [are] invulnerable.”
Justice Katzmann was speaking at the launch of the Wellness Doctrines by Jerome Doraisamy, a guide to help lawyers proactively manage their mental health.
Hosting the launch was Terry McCabe, managing principal of McCabes lawyers, who spoke about his own mental health challenges.
“I personally have suffered from anxiety and depression issues throughout my career, as many others have, but depression was never an issue that was openly talked about in my more junior years,” he said.
Mr McCabe suggested that in an ideal firm, a lawyer could talk openly about their struggles with wellbeing the same way they discuss a sports injury.
In his view, lawyers have a “responsibility to improve our health and wellbeing in any way we can”.
In particular, he urged lawyers to pursue interests outside of work.
“The key that members of our profession need to remember is to not let go of our passions. We were not made or designed to be people who produce billable units of work. If you have a passion for music or sport or chess or bushwalking – whatever it is – follow that passion.”
The launch of the Wellness Doctrines was supported by the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, whose board consulted on the book.