The profession needs to focus less on individual resilience and more on resilience based on social groups in order to improve the overall mental health of the Australian legal industry after the pandemic, according to a professor.
The Law Society of New South Wales 2021 Prayer of Charles Xuereb, “Navigating Mental Health in the Age of COVID,” held last week, explored the mental health issues that emerged in the midst of the pandemic.
This year, Professor Ian Hickie AM, Co-Director of Health and Policy at the Brain and Mind Center at the University of Sydney, spoke about mental health amid the global pandemic before participating in a question-and-answer session .
To help the legal profession in Australia become more mentally healthy, Professor Hickie said changes at the system level are essential.
“I firmly believe that resilience is a function of social groups. If you are in groups that are functioning well, even if you are not having a good day yourself, as a total group you will do better, ”he said.
“I think the legal profession is a profession that is challenged with its cohesion as a group and the way it provides transgenerational support.”
As the number of young people presenting to hospital for self-harm increased by 45%, Professor Hickie added that after the pandemic, young lawyers, in particular, are currently struggling to feel a part of themselves. of the profession, feeling alienated and unsupported – what he said was, on the whole, a systemic problem as opposed to an individual problem.
“I think the focus needs to shift from individuals and individual resilience to ‘what are the biggest systemic issues? We got involved in this file a few years ago with law schools and commercial firms. On the education side, the deans of Australian law were very willing to act, but the problem arose on the practical side, ”he continued.
“It requires constant vigilance. Are you making systemic changes so that people can have long and productive lives in a profession that is essential to our society? “
Moreover, flexibility within legal workplaces, in particular, is not up to the standard it should be to support those in the Australian legal sector, Professor Hickie added.
“We haven’t necessarily been good at providing the support for the flexibility people need when facing tough times in their lives,” he said.
However, a large percentage of the decline in mental health in the profession can also be attributed to the after-effects of COVID-19.
“There would have been somewhere between 5 and 10 percent increase in [suicide] without the pandemic, but of the 45%, at least 30% is directly attributable to the disruption of the lives of young people during the pandemic, ”added Professor Hickie.
“This is a critical time when you don’t want to disrupt a young person’s life – and they were disrupted during this particular time. We have all been disturbed, but the people most affected by this disturbance are young people. “
In terms of supporting young people entering and in the legal industry, the professor said that especially in the midst of COVID-19, young lawyers entering the profession will have struggled to learn and acquire skills as they are not in the office. Although mentoring within companies is common practice for graduates, Professor Hickie said a “more proactive approach” is needed after the pandemic.
“As we move to less restricted environments and start to take over those particular areas, we need to put a lot of emphasis on the time spent. So not just mentoring in a relaxed sense, but because an important period of career and skill development has been lost for many young people, so I think we need to take a much more proactive approach, ”he said. -he declares.
“It’s not enough to say that they have a mentor and someone to talk to. This is what happens informally and formally every day in the workplace. One of the reasons for returning to work in the normal informal structures that we have is in fact the continued support and training of young members of our profession.