LawCare: Mental health allies: champions for a supportive legal sector banner

LawCare: Mental health allies: champions for a supportive legal sector

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In today’s fast-paced and high-pressure legal sector, the role of a mental health ally has never been more crucial. Whether you're in a leadership position or just starting your career, embracing your role as a mental health ally can make a significant difference to your colleagues, your workplace and the legal sector more widely.

What is a mental health ally?

An ally is someone who actively learns more about, supports and advocates for colleagues who belong to marginalised or underrepresented groups. Allies stand up against stigma, promote diversity and inclusion, and push for culture change.

As a mental health ally, you will be helping your colleagues and contributing to a healthier, more supportive, and ultimately more effective legal sector. Put simply, it’s about everyone creating a space where people and organisations can thrive.

Who can be a mental health ally?

Anyone can be a mental health ally, and it often only takes one person to transform the culture of a business.

Partners, supervisors, and other respected colleagues can lead by example by sharing their own experiences, which can empower all members of the team. However, we often hear that it’s those in managerial roles who are most reluctant to challenge the status quo. When it comes to calling out inappropriate practices at work, there’s often a culture of ‘not making a fuss’, which only serves to normalise the behaviour.

Turning to more junior team members, it has been suggested that Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2009) are most open to talking about mental health and are not prepared to put up with environments where they don’t feel supported. Given this generation is expected to account for 27% of the global workforce by 2025, their status as allies should not be underestimated. By not listening to these concerns, organisations risk failing to attract and retain the best talent, losing people to competitors or from the legal sector altogether.

So really it falls on everyone in the legal sector, whatever your role, to create a psychologically safe working environment. Inspired by the words of Greta Thunberg, no one is too small (or too big) to make a difference.

Why be a mental health ally?

The legal sector desperately needs mental health allies because of the pressures and challenges faced by people working in this field. The legal sector is known for its high-stress environment, including long working hours, the competitive nature of the work, and the emotional toll of handling complex, often distressing cases.

Here are a few reasons you should be a mental health ally:

1. Mental health still carries a significant stigma, and many people don’t feel able to be open and honest at work. Being a mental health ally helps to break down these barriers, encourage open discussions about mental health and promote a culture where seeking help is viewed as a sign of strength, not weakness.

2. People often feel isolated with their mental health struggles due to the fear of being perceived as incapable or unprofessional. As an ally, you can provide essential support to your colleagues by offering a listening ear, understanding, and creating a supportive community within the workplace.

3. An environment that values mental health is inherently more inclusive. Effective allyship helps to attract and retain a broader spectrum of talent and creates a more diverse and inclusive legal sector where all members have the opportunity to succeed.

4. Being a mental health ally also offers opportunities for your own personal growth. It fosters empathy, improves communication skills, and enhances your understanding of mental health.

5. On a larger scale, being a mental health ally in the legal sector can significantly enhance productivity, engagement, and job satisfaction. By advocating for change, you can influence policy reforms and foster a deeper understanding of mental health across the legal community.

On LawCare’s helpline, we often hear stories of how allies are having a positive impact on workplace culture. For example, inappropriate comments are often brushed off as ‘banter’, particularly in a social context. Allies challenge discriminatory and unacceptable behaviour, and this can be really powerful when a leader sets that example.

LawCare can support callers who are worried about someone else, be that a colleague you work closely with, a family member or another member of staff. It can feel difficult talking to someone you are concerned about, and you may feel anxious about starting a conversation with them. But taking just a few minutes to talk could make a real difference to that person.

You don’t have to be a lawyer to contact LawCare for support. Organisations couldn’t function without an effective and healthy business operations team, so whether you work in HR or IT, as a secretary, on reception or in business services, you are part of the UK legal sector, and we are here for you too.

Start by making small changes

You don’t have to have it all figured out from the outset. Allies can start by making small changes, which all add up to make a big difference:

1. Better understand mental health by listening and learning. Take the time to listen to the experiences, challenges, and needs of people who have struggled with their mental health. You could also educate yourself about different mental health conditions, their symptoms, and the various challenges that colleagues might be facing. Mental Health First Aid training can be a good place to start.

2. Regularly check in on colleagues. A simple text or call can make a significant impact.

3. Use your voice to challenge discriminatory remarks, behaviours, and policies at work and in your personal life, even when it’s uncomfortable. This is crucial for those in leadership positions, who are best placed to set an example.

4. Use your position to advocate for policies and practices that promote diversity and inclusion.

5. Continuously reflect on your actions and attitudes, accept feedback, and be willing to change and grow.

In conclusion, we urgently need more mental health allies within the legal sector. Whether leading by example, offering a listening ear, or championing a change of policy at work, every action taken contributes to a healthier, more vibrant legal community. Being an ally is an ongoing process of learning, listening, acting and reflecting. It requires a commitment to challenge injustices and contribute to a world where everyone feels valued and included.

You can contact LawCare for support on 0800 279 6888, or by visiting LawCare’s website to use the live online chat. LawCare’s website also has lots of information (articles, stories, videos, blog and podcasts) on mental health and wellbeing.