Today is R U OK Day and the Queensland Law Society is encouraging everyone to take the time to connect, check in, and ask that all-important question – not only of others, but also of yourself.
This year’s theme for the national day of action is “I’m here to hear,” calling on all Australians to let the people you really care about know you’re here to really hear them.
Mental health remains a significant concern for QLS, the profession and the community, and plays a key role in our regulatory functions.
Legal workplaces are by nature stressful. Legal professionals are known to be disproportionately at risk of suffering from psychological distress and illness.
From a personal perspective, Queenslanders currently find themselves embattled by a cost-of-living crisis, while youth crime, interest rate hikes and the rental squeeze continue to make headlines.
Practitioners are also exposed to the impacts of these broader issues as they discharge their duties to the court and clients.
These stressors also have an impact on the practices, organisations and businesses who employ legal practitioners, made evident through absenteeism, presenteeism, staff attrition and WHS liability risks.
QLS Legal Workplace and Culture Consultant Denise Marshall said days of action such as R U OK Day were an important reminder that we shouldn’t let the stressors related to our work and environment normalise as being just part of the job.
“It is well recognised our legal roles are at times stressful and we need to practise self-care, and also care for our colleagues,” Denise said.
“Our work is complex, and our lives are also often complex. The more we have conversations that are sincerely asking if someone is OK the better it is for all of us, as this becomes normal, and we diminish the stigma associated with mental health.
“RU OK Day is an important reminder of what we can do throughout the year, having those conversations, maybe over a coffee with our colleague or friend. A conversation can make a difference.
“The RU OK Website has some good resources on how to have this conversation as, for some of us, it might feel like ‘I am moving from professional talk into something that could be deeply personal and could be potentially uncomfortable’, a bit of unchartered territory,” Denise advised.
“These resources can give the chart for the territory. Use your own words that feel comfortable to you.
“The World Health Organisation says that ‘mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.’ At QLS we support people working in the legal sector to achieve and maintain good mental health by providing a range of workshops, information, and practical help.”
In the 2022–23 financial year, QLS delivered five two-day intensive Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Officer courses, where a total of 95 attendees from across the legal profession gained the skills and knowledge on how to identify and assist their co-workers in need, through the application of evidence-based treatments and support.
It also held a conference and wellbeing sessions on high-priority issues affecting the profession, such as vicarious trauma and burnout, while leading wellbeing sessions were included in our Practice Management Courses.
QLS has launched a cross-committee QLS working group to tackle issues relating to mental health in the criminal justice system.
The Ethics Centre team continues to provide advice on all manner of issues in practice through its call centre.
The Early Career Lawyers are able to access 24/7, dedicated mental health and wellbeing resources via the Future Leaders Committee hub on our website.
While in partnership with EAP provider Converge International, LawCare delivers a range of confidential, personal, and professional support for members, their staff, and their immediate family members 24/7 to help manage mental health and wellbeing.
“QLS has also encouraged its staff at Law Society House to reach out to a colleague, either someone they know well or one they want to get to know better and make time this week to connect and check in with a cuppa and a chat,” Denise said.
“Who will you ask R U OK? today?”