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Taking the initiative on mental health

Taking the initiative on mental health

Jerome Doraisamy

Given the prevalence of depression and anxiety in the legal profession, lawyers need to take proactive steps to safeguard their mental health, writes Jerome Doraisamy.

Australians are, by virtue of our country’s geographical climate and exposure to ultraviolet rays, more susceptible to skin cancer than those in many other nations. As a result, we are advised to apply sunscreen before heading to the beach or stepping outside.

An elite sportsperson understands that, given the physical nature of their chosen profession, they have a greater chance of sustaining bodily injuries. Give this, he or she will stretch intensely before exertion on the field of play.

These two scenarios evince the sound logic that preventative care for one’s self reduces the likelihood of health problems arising. When considered in the context of the legal profession, I think it is fundamentally important that law students and lawyers take a proactive approach to managing their health and wellbeing, and that of those around them, rather than simply reacting to a situation if and when it occurs.

Said proactivity should be implemented from as early a point in one’s legal career as possible, especially considering that one in three law students suffers from depression, compared to 18% of medical students and 13% of the general population of Australian university students.

Of course, the majority of legal professionals will be lucky enough to not suffer crippling depression in the same manner that others, such as myself, have done. But every legal professional should appreciate that, by virtue of their chosen vocation, they are – statistically speaking – more likely to suffer some degree of psychological distress, anxiety or depression. This can range from prolonged periods of stress or unrest, all the way through to suicidal tendencies.

The ailments of psychological distress, anxiety and depression are not necessarily black and white; it is not always the case that you are either unwell or you are not. Throughout your law degree and legal career you may fluctuate on your own health continuum depending on internal or external circumstances. On any given day, your stress levels may amplify and abate, potentially on numerous occasions. Primary prevention, in the face of such oscillation, can thus help you negate those stressful factors via the development and maintenance of your own resilience and stability.

But discussion of managing one’s health and wellbeing in law, of combating depression in the profession, does not necessarily have to purport to scare us or issue dire warnings.

We can also be compelled toward positive mental health through personal drive and ambition, which leads me to my next reason to take charge of your own situation from the get-go: it gives you a much greater chance of being a productive, successful legal professional. If you are a mindful, well-rounded, balanced individual with consciousness for your own sense of self, you can drastically reduce the likelihood that you will become overwhelmed, fatigued, stressed and ultimately burned out.

As legal professionals, we are – generally speaking – inherently competitive. As creatures that strive to achieve and be the best at what we do, it seems a logical step forward to do all you can to be that productive, successful individual. For if you are that person, you are much better placed to achieve what you set out to do.

Without question, you can still attain your goals even with roadblocks that life may throw your way, and you can still suffer a breakdown even after implementing preventative measures for your health and wellbeing. But, ensuring that you are living a balanced, holistic lifestyle (in whatever manifestation works best for you) is a much easier task than trying to change when you experience problems and are stuck in your ways.

Proactivity is so much more preferable than reactivity. It can be the differential in your life and career that propels you to being the person and professional that you not only want to be, but deserve to be.

Jerome Doraisamy is a former lawyer and the author of 'The Wellness Doctrines for Law Students and Young Lawyers'

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