5.1 Other mental health issues

This section includes:

  • Explanatory text
  • 1 video.

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Although stress is possibly the most common issue which individuals experience in legal practice, there are a number of other potential issues that can arise. It is important to be aware of these, so that you can identify when you (or a colleague) may need to obtain further help and support. Some of the most common issues include:

  • Anxiety (intense, disproportionate and/or distressing feelings of worry)
  • Depression (low mood impacting on daily life)
  • Vicarious/secondary trauma (the negative psychological signs and symptoms that can result from on-going involvement with traumatised individuals)
  • Burnout.

Unlike stress, where a certain amount can be beneficial, burnout is bad. It’s often the reason why people gradually become ineffective and then leave certain professions. According to one of the most well-known burnout researchers (Maslach and Jackson, 1981), the three components are:

  1. Emotional exhaustion (anxiety, irritability, loss of appetite, fatigue, insomnia);
  2. Cynicism and detachment (not caring, depersonalisation, reduced empathy);
  3. Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment (reduced or low productivity, poor performance).

Recent evidence indicates that females may experience higher levels of emotional exhaustion than males and they may experience emotional exhaustion as their first warning sign of burnout (Houkes, Winants, Twellaar and Verdonk, 2011). In contrast, males may experience higher levels of cynicism and detachment than females and may experience this as their first warning sign of burnout. So how you experience burnout may differ depending on your gender (and other factors).

First-hand accounts of legal professionals dealing with some of these issues are available on the LawCare website. [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] This video explains when you may wish to consider seeking further support.

Considering further support

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5. Dealing with stress

6. Becoming a reflective practitioner