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During this week of 06 October 2014, Kingsley Napley joined thousands of other organisations across the world to celebrate the most important week in the mental health calendar – Mental Health Awareness Week, which culminates in World Mental Health Day today. To raise awareness of mental health issues (particularly within the legal sector), Kingsley Napley’s Diversity & Inclusion group organised a week-long campaign, which included a firm-wide lunch with inspirational speakers to raise awareness of key issues.
The main focus of the campaign was on stress as the Diversity & Inclusion group felt that it is an issue that the majority UK workforce can relate to; whether the stress is caused by a heavy workload, a demanding home life or a particularly challenging project or case. As stress itself is not a mental health condition per se, it is often overlooked, when actually it has been shown to contribute to, and in some cases exacerbate, a more serious, on-going mental health problem.
Mental health and the challenges in the legal sector
Working in the legal sector can particularly challenging, and, as with most firms, the work we do often involves being privy to matters that are disturbing or upsetting, or dealing with clients who are at a particularly sensitive time in their lives, the pressure of which can be extremely stressful. In some cases, clients will often share their problems with you and it can be difficult to desensitise from these issues and not let them affect you personally. It is understandable then, that at some point in their career, staff may need someone to talk to or someone who can offer advice and support through a difficult time.
It is for this very reason that the charity LawCare was set up. It is an advisory and support service designed to help lawyers, their families and their support staff deal with issues which include stress, depression, addiction, eating disorders and related emotional difficulties. At our firm-wide lunch this week, a member of the LawCare team provided a talk about the effects that stress can have, both physically and emotionally, offered straightforward tips on how to cope when stress levels become too high and how to stop the symptoms of stress from becoming something more serious.
Lawyers at Kingsley Napley also spoke at the lunch about how they cope with stress, both in the workplace and at home. Anthony Macpherson, an Associate in our Corporate & Commercial team, talked openly about his experience of a stressful transaction, and how he and the team got through what was a particularly tough time by rallying together and eating a record amount of take-away pizza! He was very honest about how difficult that period of time was for him and was clearly grateful for the support he received from his colleagues and Partners.
Michelle Chance, a Partner in our Employment team, also shared her wealth of knowledge on wellbeing, reflecting on issues discussed at a recent Law Society Gazette round-table discussion where she had been asked to speak and an article she wrote for HR Magazine on ‘How employers can manage stress in the workplace’. Michelle shared a number of experiences from her career which she found particularly stressful, and she reiterated that the Partners, the HR team and a large number of services are available at Kingsley Napley to support all members of the firm.
The bigger picture
The aim of this week’s mental health campaign was to try to get all staff thinking about their own mental health, as well as that of those around them by offering advice on spotting the signs of mental health conditions, how to deal with the symptoms, and who to go to if they feel worried or need support. Due to the stigma surrounding mental health issues and knowing how difficult it can be to talk about them openly (particularly in the workplace), the Diversity & Inclusion group wanted to ensure that staff at Kingsley Napley feel supported and that they have an awareness of the many different services available for help when needed.
Despite focusing on stress within the legal sector, it was also important to the Diversity & Inclusion group that the stigma associated with mental health was looked at as a wider issue within society as whole. It is a well-known statistic that 1 in 4 British adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any one year. However, the less well-publicised facts, namely that suicide is the most common cause of death in men in the UK under the age of 35 years and, in 2010 self-harm took more lives than war, murder and natural disasters around the world combined, are perhaps more shocking and poignant.
There is light at the end of the tunnel though. Increasingly, charities like LawCare are established to enable people to talk about their problems and get advice from those in the know. Organisations are also taking a more active interest in the well-being of their employees and supporting them in times of need. With these services and internal support in the workplace in place, we hope that together we can start to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and ensure that the related statistics start to have a more positive outlook.
Further information and assistance
To find out more about the confidential services and support LawCare offers, please visit their website at www.lawcare.org.uk for details and contact numbers. A range of other charities offering support line services can also be found HERE.
By Vicki Tavener, HR Officer, on behalf of Kingsley Napley's Diversity & Inclusion group.
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