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Mental Health in Scotland's Legal Sector | Kara Connect

Scotland’s legal sector has made strides in recent years in seeking to open up the discussion about mental health issues, and provide support where possible. The acceleration of mental health challenges within the legal sector, however, is making it ever more urgent to provide the right kind of support.

A mental health crisis in Scotland?

Scotland, like many other countries, faces a concerning picture that’s looking increasingly like a mental health crisis. The Scottish Government estimates that around one in three people are affected by mental health problems in any one year, and the Scottish Health Survey 2022 shows mental wellbeing has declined sharply in recent years. See Me is Scotland’s national programme to end mental health stigma, but involvement is required at every level in society and business, to make meaningful change. These alarming figures highlight the need for comprehensive mental health support across all sectors, including the legal profession.

Challenges faced by legal professionals

Within the legal sector, the demanding nature of the profession coupled with long hours, high workloads, and intense pressure, significantly impacts mental wellbeing. Legal professionals need to deal with high conflict situations and are required to make high stakes decisions, which all contribute to an elevated level of stress.

In the Law Society of Scotland’s Profile of the Profession 2023 survey, nearly two thirds of respondents reported a mental health issue in the past five years. Separately, the Wellbeing and Resilience Report 2023 indicates that higher degrees of stress and burnout have been reported within the legal sector, with work volume, feeling undervalued and a lack of work-life balance being cited as the top three pressure points. Almost 70% of respondents to LawCare’s 2021 Life in the Law survey said they’d experienced mental ill health in the previous year, with young lawyers particularly at risk.

Layer over this the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and legal professionals are often discouraged from seeking help, further exacerbating the problem.

Why we need to support our colleagues

The consequences of neglecting mental health support within the legal sector are far-reaching. People are experiencing burnout, anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions that can lead to reduced productivity, impaired decision-making, and diminished job satisfaction.

Younger lawyers and new graduates are acutely aware of these factors, with many experiencing mental health issues at earlier stages in their career. In the latest survey of law students in Scotland, 65% of respondents said they had experienced a mental health issue in the last five years, with depression, anxiety and burnout being the most common issues.

The high proportion of people experiencing wellbeing issues and who are not receiving professional support for their mental health is perhaps the most concerning of all. Whether this is due to the stigma of mental ill health, lack of access or lack of resources, this is certainly an area that must be tackled.

Why wellbeing matters for employers

Investing in mental health support for legal professionals is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic decision for the legal sector. By prioritising mental wellbeing, legal firms can foster a healthier work environment, improve employee retention, and enhance overall productivity.

Recent research shows that poor mental health costs Scottish employers over £2 billion every year. With the scale of this challenge growing, these costs rise in parallel. In terms of organisations investing in mental health supports, the data shows that for every £1 spend on mental health interventions, employers get back £5 in reduced sick days and increased productivity.

If we spend an average of eight hours each day at work, and eight hours asleep, we’re spending half of our waking hours in the workplace. Given that workplaces can contribute to wellbeing issues, it’s no surprise then that workplaces can contribute to helping to provide support for mental health and wellbeing challenges.

How can employers address these issues?
  1. Educate and advocate
    Provide education and awareness training about dealing with mental ill health, to move towards normalising conversations about mental health and wellbeing and to remove the stigma your team might have concerns about. This education and awareness needs to be at all levels, for leadership and management to make them more approachable and engaging on the topic, and for team members to feel comfortable to discuss their challenges and needs.

  2. Provide proactive support
    People who have access to the right services before they reach a crisis have significantly better outcomes, for themselves and their families. Providing access to support for employees and their loved ones helps address problem areas within the broader family unit, which improves employee productivity, loyalty and retention.

  3. The ability to choose the right provider for support
    In healthcare provision, it’s important to give employees the opportunity to choose the professional they wish to work with. If we were booking something as simple as a restaurant, we would want to choose the restaurant we’re booking, right? This ability to select is even more pertinent when deciding on a medium to long term set of critical supports. Giving employees some control in decision making has significant benefits in encouraging them to continue to access and derive benefit from the support on offer. They may choose providers with specific language capability, cultural backgrounds or specialist areas, which dramatically improves their outcomes.

  4. High Quality Care across diverse backgrounds
    In order to provide the right solution for each employee, they must have access to a range of appropriate experts from a variety of backgrounds, who are trained in cultural sensitivity. Having access to high quality professionals across a wide range of specialist areas can help your employees find the exact combination of expertise and suitability for them.

  5. Secure and Private Access
    Privacy is a significant concern, particularly if employees have anxiety that mental health issues might have a negative impact on their career. There is evidence that this stigma is still felt in the legal sector.

    Employees must have full confidence in the services on offer in the workplace and that their privacy is a priority and cannot be compromised. Every person engaging with healthcare services has the right to know all issues will be confidential and secure in order to engage.
Create a wellbeing strategy for your workplace

As we come toward the end of 2023, it’s a crucial time to consider our plans in this area for 2024. For employers in the legal sector, that's why we at Kara Connect are proud to support the Law Society of Scotland's Guide to creating a Wellbeing Strategy. This resource is developed with the wellbeing needs and concerns of legal firms and legal professionals across Scotland at the forefront.

This content was also published on the Law Society of Scotland website. 

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Florence Mazy
Shane Cusack

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Florence Mazy
Shane Cusack