As a legal professional in Nigeria, Isibor Aigbe has observed that lawyers often experience high levels of stress and emotional exhaustion due to the nature of their demanding and competitive work. This leads to anxiety, depression and burn out.
Aigbe has dedicated more than ten years of his professional career to advocating for the greater awareness of mental health and wellbeing, because he says there is a reluctance among lawyers to talk about these issues due to the fear of being stigmatised.
“There is a misconception that mental health issues are a sign of weakness. This attitude is particularly worrying in the legal profession, and in order to destigmatise mental health issues we need to promote awareness and education. Education can help change people’s attitude towards mental illness,” said Aigbe.
Creating a work environment that promotes mental wellbeing is also essential. Aigbe says this can be achieved by implementing policies that are responsive and impactful, and programs that promote a good work–life balance such as flexible working hours, remote work options, and access to mental health literacy resources like employee assistance programs, counselling services and support groups.
“Encouraging open communication between colleagues and superiors is also essential. This can help create a psychologically safe and supportive work environment where individuals feel comfortable discussing their mental health challenges, and seek support when needed,” he said.
Aigbe advises lawyers to take the following steps to prioritise their own mental health and wellbeing:
Recognise and address the stressors and triggers that affect their mental health.
Practise self care by exercising, meditating and socialising with friends and family.
Seek support from mental health professionals such as counsellors who can help them manage their mental health challenges.
“There are several resources available to lawyers in Africa to support their mental health and wellbeing. For example, the African Bar Association has a mental health initiative that provides support and resources to legal professionals in Africa. The International Bar Association has a mental health and wellbeing toolkit that provides guidelines and guidance on how to promote mental health in the legal profession. There are also several mental health organisations in Africa, such as the African Mental Health Foundation, that provide support and resources to individuals with mental health challenges. Employers can also play a role by providing material and services and creating a supportive work environment for lawyers,” said Aigbe.
As the spokesperson for the Commission in Africa, his duties will include engaging with lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law schools to raise awareness of the importance of mental health and wellbeing, and to promote best practices.
In his new role, Aigbe will continue to work with other commissioners at the Commission to develop policies and strategies to promote mental health and wellbeing awareness in the legal profession globally.
“I am honoured to be given this opportunity to make a positive impact,” Aigbe said.
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