President’s Blog
May 08, 2018

by Miriam Kresivo, QC

The practice of law can be competitive, stressful and often adversarial. Most lawyers experience a need to appear strong, perfect and impervious to stress. Maintaining balance can be difficult. The constant weight of these expectations puts enormous pressure on our mental health.

Mental health issues can arise for anyone, including members of the legal profession. A 2016 study of 12,825 lawyers published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine found that more than 45 per cent described experiencing depression, and 11.5 per cent had suicidal thoughts at some point in their careers. The same study found that a significant barrier to lawyers seeking treatment or assistance is their fear of being stigmatized if others found out that they needed help.

This week is Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week, which is part of a campaign to raise awareness and encourage communities and workplaces to share and talk about mental health. It is a timely reminder for lawyers and members of the legal community to think about how we can all support each other and to maintain our own mental wellness. Even if you are currently not experiencing any difficulties personally, chances are someone you care about is.

This year, the Benchers made addressing mental health issues a priority in the 2018-2020 Strategic Plan. In January, we struck the Mental Health Task Force to identify ways to reduce the stigma of mental health issues and to review the Law Society’s regulatory approaches to discipline and admissions. Our work as regulator looks to build on the groundbreaking work of the Canadian Bar Association, the Lawyers Assistance Program and law schools to bring awareness and develop resources to help strengthen the well-being of our profession for the benefit of both lawyers and the public we serve.

Over the first quarter of the year, the task force has been focusing its efforts on gathering information and ideas from those with first-hand experience and expertise, including Orlando Da Silva, former president of the Ontario Bar Association, Margaret Ostrowski, QC, former chair of the Mental Health Review Board, past Bencher and past president of the CBA BC Branch, and representatives from the UBC Allard School of Law and the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Law. The insights that have been shared with us have provided greater context to our understanding of the wide range of mental health issues experienced by members of the profession, from episodes of mild depression or anxiety to severe disorders that are debilitating and chronic. We were also cautioned against treating all mental health issues as the same. Our consultations have confirmed that the fear of stigma causes many lawyers and law students not to disclose or seek assistance. Others are unsure whether they could benefit from assistance, or how and where to find it.

The task force’s consultations continue, including planned meetings with the BC Centre on Substance Use and the Canadian Mental Health Association (BC Division). The task force intends to make recommendations to the Benchers later this year, including with respect to a potential diversion program, as well as increasing education and other resources available to the profession. I would like to thank all of them for their time and invaluable input as we move forward with this initiative.

The remarkable amount of interest from the profession and members of the legal community affirms our decision to make this one of our strategic priorities. We welcome your input, too. If you have ideas or feedback, email I also encourage you to check back on our Improving Mental Health for the Legal Profession webpage for updates on the task force’s work and additional resources for lawyers.