Gold Coast lawyer Tammi McDermott knows all too well the stress of a legal career.
At Law Society House on Thursday, the business advisor outlined her lived experience with mental illness when she delivered the annual Minds Count Lecture, presented by Queensland Law Society (QLS) and Bar Association of Queensland (BAQ).
A mother of two, Tammi was hospitalised in 2017 with post-natal depression after the birth of her second child.
She credits the help she received at that time with her happiness and fulfilment today, and is an advocate for normalising conversations about mental health.
Tammi, who is a board member of mental health education group Livin, was introduced by QLS immediate past president Kara Thomson.
“Tammi knows courage. Tonight she will share part of her journey and experience of mental ill health and we are so grateful for her leadership in sharing that with us tonight as we step closer and closer to normalising mental ill health and encouraging others to share their experiences so we can all learn from each other about best practice and how to manage demanding professional careers,” Kara said.
Tammi said it was “very draining” to relive her experience from six years ago, but the message was important.
“I’ve been tasked with talking for 40 minutes, and I’m going to do my best to do that today, but if I don’t, it’s because this story is a really, really hard one to tell,” she said.
“But normalising conversation, bringing it up in a forum, I guarantee people are going to reach out to you if they need help, you just have to normalise it around your peers and your colleagues.”
Tammi provided statistics including that suicide is leading cause of death for all Australians aged between 15 and 44, and that while nine people take their own lives every day, an estimated 30 other people attempt it.
She said when she reached the point of contemplating suicide, she genuinely believed she was a failure as a parent and wife, and that her family would be better off without her.
“Not one single person in my network asked me if I was okay. Not one,” she said.
“I have a wide circle of friends. I have three sets of parents surrounding us on the Gold Coast. I had a circle of best friends … I had mums’ groups. I had my colleagues. I had my businesses.
“If I have as many people around me as I have, and not one single person stopped to ask if I was okay, there’s no wonder that there’s so many suicides in this country.
“If there’s one thing that you take away from today, is to have open conversations about mental illness.”
In delivering closing remarks, Gareth Beacham KC, chair of the BAQ’s Bar Care Committee, said knowledge was power when it came to mental health.
“Mental illness is not a choice. It genuinely is an injury to our mental health. Normalising it should be natural,” Gareth said.
He emphasised the importance for lawyers of developing mental fitness in a results-driven environment.
“We’ve always judged ourselves by succeeding, and it means that when there are things that might look like failure, we don’t deal very well with them,” he said.
The lecture will soon be available online in the QLS Shop for members to view for free.