The rate of depression in law is still alarmingly high, but there's much the wider business community can learn from law firms putting differences aside in an effort to tackle the illness.
That was the message shared today (20 October) by legal representatives on behalf of the recently launched [email protected], to an audience of HR professionals across a variety of industries.
[email protected] is a joint initiative of Allens Arthur Robinson, Blake Dawson, Clayton Utz, Freehills and Mallesons Stephen Jaques, in which the firms seek to share strategies and programs for tackling depression.
While law firms admit they have a long way to go in dealing with depression - the consequences of which were tragically highlighted recently when a Sydney CBD lawyer very publicly took his own life - Gareth Bennett, the director of people and culture strategies at Freehills, believes just getting law firms in the same room to talk about the issue is a massive step forward.
He said such talking has led to some productive strategies for raising awareness on depression.
One such strategy includes the recent launch of a DVD featuring partners and lawyers speaking frankly about their own experiences with depression and how they eventually sought help.
Law firms have also worked with the College of Law to create a practical legal training module that deals with depression.
Kate Cato, director of people and development at Blake Dawson, said the joint initiative was a sign that law firm leaders are willing to make a public commitment to dealing with the issue and "to put time in, which is perhaps more valuable to our firms than money".
The joint efforts appear to be working, according to Susan Ferrier, the director of people and performance at Allens. While quantifying the success of such a joint-commitment is difficult, she believes lawyers within her firm have started seeking help for depression sooner than they would have before the launch of [email protected]
Matthew Stutsel, a partner at Freehills who shared his story on the DVD - including details of the day he came very close to committing suicide - was also frank when again sharing his experiences with the wider business community today.
Stutsel recalled that when his team heard he had depression, most of them were surprised. He noted that his work effort did not drop when he was suffering and as such, absenteeism and a loss of billable hours are not always the warning signs that somebody might be suffering from depression.
"It's very difficult to have a flag, often it's about knowing your team," he said.
Bennett said the best way to address depression was to have lawyers, like Stutsel, share their own stories about suffering and recovering from the illness in order to prove that speaking out about it is not "career limiting".
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