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Mental illness hits lawyers in their prime

Mental illness hits lawyers in their prime

Australia is in the midst of a mental health crisis in which sufferers, including lawyers, are being struck down at their peak, according to a leading advocate. Speaking today (July 13) at a NSW…

Australia is in the midst of a mental health crisis in which sufferers, including lawyers, are being struck down at their peak, according to a leading advocate.

Speaking today (July 13) at a NSW Law Society luncheon, 2010 Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry AO said mental ill-health is affecting lawyers in their "prime of life".

McGorry also said that while mental ill-health is a top concern for Australian society, on par with climate change, it is beset by significant under-investment in terms of both money and research.

"Australia is innovative, but we don't scale things up when we've got a good product. Underspending causes major structural problems," he said.

In relation to lawyers, McGorry compared them to "soldiers" in that their work typically calls on strong, tough and resilient personality requirements, and mental illness is therefore seen as a weakness.

"It's not a weakness: it's a health problem, it's part of life," he said. "If you want to be strong and resilient you've got to recognise and respond to it. That strength, competition and adversarial aspect of the legal profession might make it seem more difficult to respond."

McGorry said that while society tends to invest in a person at the prime of their life (which he said is around 22 years of age) through parenting and education, one in two people between the ages of 18 and 25 have commonly experienced at least one psychiatric disorder - whether it be depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or substance abuse.

McGorry also said that while he is confident the new Minister for Mental Health, Kevin Humphries, will be an ally for positive change - as "he understands the nature and scale of the crisis and scandal that has befallen the NSW health system over the last few years" - meaningful reform would require "enormous political courage and determination".

"I don't think anything is going to change unless it becomes a voting issue. It's a politicised issue," he said.

Present at the luncheon were lawyers both young and old, various representatives of mental health and carers associations, and interested parties hoping to gain insight into the current state of mental health issues and remedies in Australia.

Stephanie Quine

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