Some of the country's top lawyers have spoken out about their personal battles with depression on a new DVD set to shake up the way the legal profession views mental illness.
The DVD, launched last night as part of the Depression & Anxiety Working Group's (DAWG) [email protected] initiative, features numerous partners and lawyers from Allens, Freehills and Mallesons speaking candidly about their personal experiences fighting mental illness.
Freehills partner Matthew Stutsel was among those featured on the DVD, and spoke frankly about his own battle with depression which led him to make an attempt to take his own life.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Stutsel said he wanted to speak out in order to help those who are suffering as he did.
"Knowing how difficult it was for me to speak about it as I was suffering it, and having a couple of friends who are currently suffering from depression, made me want to help," he said.
"I am really hoping that I can help someone before they get to the stage that I got to, and certainly before they get to the stage where they do something they can't turn back on. That's the difference I'd really like to make."
Among the several hundred guests who attended the DVD's launch was Marie Jepson, founder of the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation which was established in honour of her son, a young lawyer who - after a battle with severe depression - took his own life in 2004.
"I thought [the DVD] was incredibly powerful. People made themselves very vulnerable and were incredibly courageous in how honest they were about their experiences and its impact on them. They risked a lot," said Jepson.
"It can only have a positive effect in letting people know that there are people who understand and who feel as they do."
Freehills partner Peter Butler, one of the drivers behind the initiative which is a collaborative effort between Allens, Mallesons, Blake Dawson, Freehills, Clayton Utz, the College of Law and numerous university faculties, said he found the DVD "absolutely inspirational" and applauded those involved for revealing intimate details about a topic which is so personal and so difficult to confront.
"Depression is a hard thing to talk about," he said.
"What everyone working on this initiative wanted to do was try to end the stigma and create an environment where it is okay to say, 'I'm not feeling very well at the moment. I need help. I can't do it on my own.'"
The DVD will be incorporated into the College of Law's practical legal training curriculum, with a pilot to be run this year, followed by fully fledged implementation in 2011.
- Claire Chaffey