Survive Law first encountered social worker and mental health expert, Robyn Bradey, at College of Law's Wellness Forum. We caught up with her to bring you her take on the mental health issues plaguing the profession.
1. What do you do?
I am a Mental Health Accredited Social worker in private practice. I provide clinical supervision to mental health professionals and coaching to a variety of people in health and law. I am currently the Mental Health consultant and trainer for the Law Society of NSW, Legal Aid. The ODPP, the CDPP, a number state and Commonwealth government depts, the tribunals and Ombudsmen, RACS and some law firms.
2. Why is mental health an issue for the legal profession?
Mental health is an issue for the legal profession for a whole range of reasons. Obviously the nature of the work is an issue. Hearing about people's suffering as part if your work brings Vicarious Trauma (this the trauma you experience when you hear what happens to others) into play. Workload is an issue as well as competition for jobs. Billable hours is a nightmare and there is a lot of bullying. Lawyers are neither taught nor selected for their people skills or self awareness and that leaves them vulnerable in the face of what I've described here.
3. What is the biggest misunderstanding lawyers have about mental health?
The biggest misunderstanding about mental health that lawyers have is that it is a weakness or a personal failing; rather what it really is which is a brain illness that can be treated.
4. Is it difficult working with lawyers on mental health issues?
The biggest issue in working with lawyers is their ignorance about the early warning signs of mental illness and their lack of self awareness about how they are travelling. The second biggest issue is to get them to seek help, because they don't want it on their records. Thirdly, unfortunately is that they are still not likely to be well supported if they do come forward.
5. What would your advice be to law students looking to become legal professionals?
I would advise law students first and foremost to only study law because you really want to, not just because you got the marks or your folks want you to do it. Keep your interests wide and varied, learn and practice mindfulness and begin habits of resilience, which include sleep and exercise now. Ask yourself every year if you still want to do this and if not go do something else. Seek mentors and mentor others and cultivate self awareness and a sense of humour. Actually the latter is very important because stand up comedy is where many lawyers end up!
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