4 Tools for Maintaining Mental Wellness in the Legal Profession

What is a major health concern that experts cannot stop talking about, but individuals have trouble talking about? Mental health. 

Though the stigma of mental health is diminishing it still makes many people uncomfortable. Post- pandemic mental health awareness has become much more prevalent as everyone was going through something: the stress of the lock down, job loss, childcare issues and other family issues, to name a few. Pandemic stress on top of an already stressful profession pushed many closer to the edge.

Personally, pre-pandemic, I loved my job as a paralegal but during the pandemic… it became too much. I was stressed by the pressure of my not meeting my billable hour requirements as work lessened in the early days of the pandemic. I was stressed about the uncertainty of whether clients would be able afford our legal services which might result in my being laid off from work. The lack of control that I felt about these issues brought its own stress. Finally, the accumulation of the stress manifest itself as physical illness. I realized I needed to take a break and take care of myself.

During the pandemic, I left my job as a paralegal – the career that I thought I wanted – to explore work in other industries. I’m still working part-time in legal, and I don’t feel I’ve left the legal profession for good, but I am exploring my future and other options within as well as outside of legal.

There is a reason why so many mental health resources exist within the legal community. Our profession is tough, and you have no idea when you, or a colleague, or a staff member will reach a point when they just do not feel okay.  Having tools that can help in that moment could make a difference for you or someone you know. 

In the legal world we as professionals must take ethics and substance abuse courses to maintain our professional licenses and certifications. There we learn of the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse issues among the profession. It is important that your firm not just worry about this once a year. Here are some tools that you can instill in your office to encourage mental wellness: 

Take a Break: Yes, time is money, especially now that so many are trying to play catch up from the past two years of ups and downs but what I have learned is taking a break is necessary for mental health. Ultimately, it is recommended (in some corporations required) that every two hours a person working an eight-hour day should take a fifteen-minute break along with an extended break for lunch. This helps the brain decompress and lowers stress. I have found that some of my best ideas come when I stop thinking about a particular project for just a few minutes. 

Get outside: Encouraging your office to get outside for a minute or two or on their break is extremely helpful. According to an article titled “Vitamin D and Depression: Where is the Sunshine”[1]Americans are extremely Vitamin D deficient which can lead to depression. Also, in the spirit of time being money, such deficiency and depression costs $225 million in lost workdays. Fifteen minutes outside is much cheaper than losing whole days!

Exercise: Exercise is important for physical and mental health. I have worked for employers in the past who provided an incentive for exercise, whether that be encouraging walks during lunch breaks or financial assistance in providing gym memberships. One of my employer’s provided a workout class during lunch hour in the conference room and encouraged participation. 

Mental Health First Aid: Laura Hudson, the Chief Marketing Officer at Ward & Smith, recently announced on LinkedIn that she is now a certified Mental Health First Aid responder. According to Laura, just as “‘everyday people’ knowing CPR helps save lives during medical emergencies, Mental Health First Aid helps ‘everyday people’ assist those who are experiencing a mental health challenge.” 

As Laura says, “the statistics are startling: 1 in 5 adults in the United States will experience a mental health challenge in any given year. More than 40% of those experiencing a disorder will not seek treatment. First aid can help connect those needing help by listening to them nonjudgmentally and suggesting appropriate resources.” 

Visit Mental Health First Aid – National Council for Mental Wellbeing (thenationalcouncil.org) to learn more about how you or a colleague can become certified as an Mental Health First Aid responder.

I am not advocating you become a licensed therapist but a check in with your colleagues means a lot. Just having a quick chat or just saying “Hey, I can see you’re having a tough day, do you need to chat it out or just take a breather?” This outreach will go a long way. Being open to discussions about life stressors can help. Not everyone will be open but just the awareness that you care may help someone take a look at the way they are handling their stress and cause them to evaluate options for help. 

These tips are just some of the tools you can use in your office to encourage mental health wellness. The most important thing is to be open and have a general awareness that as individuals we do not handle stress in the same ways.  Mental health wellness of you and your employees it is important for each individual person AND the business. 

[1] Penckofer, S., Kouba, J., Byrn, M., & Estwing Ferrans, C. (2010). Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the Sunshine?Issues in mental health nursing31(6), 385–393. https://doi.org/10.3109/01612840903437657

About The Author

Jessica Riley

Jessica Riley is a graduate of the Meredith College Paralegal Program and a Marketing Assistant with Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services.

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