Africa Legal’s Chief Operating Officer, Tom Pearson, recently interviewed two senior lawyers in different parts of Africa who raised the spectre of poor mental health in the legal profession. In this column Tom talks about his own mental health challenges and encourages others to come forward and do the same.
“Stiff upper lip. Be a man. Mind over matter. Everyone feels down sometimes...”
Words we hear.
“Am I broken? What if they find out? Is this going to be forever? I can’t do this…”
Words we say….. But whispered to ourselves.
Mental health is being widely and laudably highlighted, discussed and destigmatised in the legal media across the US and UK. The host, and our partner for the African Legal Awards, Law.Com International, has been committing large amounts of journalism to the topic for sometime.
But, in Africa, we have yet to see the media really turn the spotlight on such a pervasive and damaging issue, let alone to focus on a specific industry's plight, such as law.
Africa Legal is committed to changing this.
Through our unique and privileged position, as the only pan-African legal media platform, we have the audience, the journalists and the network to do our part in pulling the curtain back on a health issue which disproportionately affects those in our central community, lawyers.
The opening lines of this article may well already expose my personal relationship with mental health challenges but, in the interests of openness and honesty, I’ve grappled with the ‘black dogs’ of anxiety and depression for some time. I’ve sought out medical, social, therapeutic and pharmaceutical assistance and I am unashamedly proud of how far I have come… while always trying to remember how fragile such progress can be.
This personal experience is a key motivation in wanting to help others in our community come together, share challenges, publish what’s worked for them or what they want and need to see change in the profession to ensure progress towards better industry-wide management of this mental health crisis.
A second motivation has been the unplanned prevalence of mental health-related stories and topics coming to the front in several episodes of our popular Podcast Series. My recent conversations with Nelson Ashitiva and Greg Nott are two standout examples. Both are individuals bravely engaging with the mental health agenda but with little exposure or fanfare.
I hope that this first step - towards this goal of shining a light on mental health in the legal profession - will be my personal shout-out.
“It’s got me too, and that’s okay!”
This is also a call for anyone and everyone in this wonderful pan-African legal community to submit their thoughts via articles, podcasts and videos… (even poetry and painting if it helps you express!) to be collated into a dedicated series on mental health in the African legal profession.
So, lawyers, law students, legal academics, legal tech specialists, ALT law providers of Africa… join me in opening up, sharing our mental health challenges, experiences and tips! Together we can transition a collection of individuals willing to showcase vulnerability to a collective strengthening across this most prised and important of professions. You can email me Thomas Pearson at firstname.lastname@example.org
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