Isibor Aigbe, one of the International Bar Association’s Mental Wellbeing Task Force heads for Africa, takes a closer look at ways in which the stigma of talking about mental health issues can be dealt with among the legal community.
Like many other African countries, Nigeria is evolving quickly as a result of having more investment and new businesses, and becoming more commercialised in terms of infrastructural development. This boom is good for business, but it brings a great deal of added pressure, especially for lawyers who play a major role in many of these transactions.
In their quest to provide the best service for their clients, they must also strive to take good care of themselves and recognise certain triggers that will be detrimental to their mental health. There is a maxim that says, “You cannot give what you do not have” (nemo dat quod non habet). In short, it is important to take care of oneself and look after one’s mental health to be able to satisfactorily meet the needs of clients.
The International Bar Association (IBA) is deeply concerned about the mental wellbeing within the legal profession, and it formed a taskforce to drive the work forward and expand this dialogue.
A full report of the IBA Presidential Task Force was launched at a meeting with global experts on legal wellbeing issues on 26 October 2021. The report sets out ten principles for dealing with the mental wellbeing crisis in the legal profession. The IBA’s survey showed that “stigma is a major problem: it is very difficult for practitioners and students to acknowledge they may have problems and seek help without worrying that it will damage their career or livelihoods.” Research also showed that one in ten young lawyers worldwide experiences suicidal thoughts.
The first step to beating the stigma is to stop treating mental illness as taboo. Whether it’s an article you read, a show you watched or a personal experience you had, talking about it openly and without shame will help others realise they are not alone.
The culture that prioritises psychological wellbeing helps employees who are struggling to feel safe, and encourages everyone to improve their mental health. It also prescribes the behaviours that are appropriate within the workplace. Corporate leaders should take this more seriously in order to improve the organisational culture and remove the stigma.
Mental health is fundamental to individual, organisational and national wellbeing. The work environment should thus be psychologically safe and equal attention should be given to promoting both the physical and mental wellbeing of all employees.
A vast majority of legal practitioners explained that after communicating feelings of mental stress, their law offices neglected to acknowledge or even provide any form of support; they usually only check the mental wellness of their staff when one is not being productive.
One article to come out of the report focuses specifically on the mental wellness of lawyers in Nigeria. It expatiates on the causes and the negative effects of poor mental wellness of legal practitioners and how organisations can draw on multilateralism to address issues on mental wellness. It also highlights existing policies and initiatives that cater to the mental wellbeing of legal practitioners not only in Nigeria but also globally.
To read the full article on the IBA website click here.
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