Having started training as a patent attorney, I understood that stress comes with the job. But boy was I unprepared! Soon after starting at my previous firm, I fell into a deep depression that lasted about a year and a half, and I struggled to adjust and cope. My work performance was dwindling rapidly, and I couldn’t function well around others anymore. At times, suicidal thoughts plagued me, and the nature of my job didn’t make it any easier. Imposter syndrome controlled my life. Nothing is worse than feeling like your mind is battling itself.
I wasn’t alone.
Things hit home a few months ago upon learning that a fellow trainee at another firm committed suicide. Although I never learned the circumstances that led to his death, I am sad to say that it didn’t surprise me. Mental health issues have gone through the roof, especially in the pandemic of COVID-19, and lawyers are no exception. Statistically, 28% of lawyers suffer from depression in comparison to less than 8% of the general population. Approximately
19% of lawyers struggle with anxiety, about 59% of
Above: Me bright-eyed and eager
(and slightly naïve)
at the beginning of my career as a trainee.
barristers demonstrate unhealthy levels of perfectionism and nearly 40% of law students struggle with depression. These statistics are alarming and should encourage us into action. With more people working from home, adjusting has been hard for many.
One thing I did after months of struggling was to get help. Realising that you need help is arguably the hardest step, but the most important one.
I sought out counselling.
Pro tip - Speak to your GP
Contrary to misconceptions, pills should be a last resort. Ask to be referred to a Health and Wellbeing Service that is on the NHS that can offer consistent and helpful support.
Alternatively, seek out a private counsellor. They can teach you ways to battle through the storms you’re experiencing and to come out stronger.
Alongside these steps I developed a personal routine of self-care. Below are some of them that can help you handle the pressures of your occupation:
1. Make a list.
Write down what you need to achieve that day or write life goals you may have. Keep it simple, keep it reasonable. Once a task is done, tick it off. You’ll find that your mind develops a sense of “I can do this”.
2. Take breaks.
There’s nothing wrong with leaving your desk and peeling your eyes away from your screen for a while. Grab a hot drink, stand outside for a few minutes, and get some fresh air. You’ll find that when you return to your desk, you see your work with fresh eyes.
3. Keep hydrated.
Drink water! Seems basic, I know. But surprisingly, it works. I guzzle 1.5 L of water just sitting at my desk alone. The hydration helps to clear your mind. Adequate exercise, sleep and B12 supplements do wonders in maximising your energy and dopamine levels (feel-good hormone).
4. Leave work at the office.
This is essential. Learning to leave work at your office (even working from home) and setting your personal boundaries for what you can handle is incredibly important for your self-care.
5. Forgive yourself.
It’s ok to make mistakes: don’t let them define you, instead learn from them. No mistake is too bad to come back from. Feel comfortable in your humanity and re-affirm that the past cannot be changed, but the future can.
6. Let your employer know if you are feeling overwhelmed.
There is no shame in admitting that you’re struggling. Now that there is growing emphasis on mental health in the workplace, employers are becoming more sympathetic towards their struggling employees. Speak to your boss or HR department and let them know your concerns.
7. Enjoy life!
Now that society is opening again gradually, see and catch up with friends. Take relaxing baths in the evening, meditate and make time doing something you enjoy. Painting, pottery, anything you like! Do something completely unrelated to work to give your mind a chance to disconnect completely.
8. Surround yourself with positivity.
Seek out those who reaffirm you and support you. They will give you ways to cope and improve, while reminding you that you are loved.
Above: Me, more mature, over two years on, having
struggled through my mental health issues and having
learnt a whole lot about myself, work life, and corporate Britain.
There are resources out there to help and here are a few that could help you:
It’s ok not to be ok and there is always help.
You are not alone.😊