Notice to the Profession
May 05, 2022

by President Lisa Hamilton, QC

As many of you will know, this is Mental Health Week. In recent years, and especially during the pandemic, the Law Society has used the occasion of the week to focus attention on the mental health resources that are available to you and your families, free of charge, provided by LifeWorks and the Lawyers Assistance Program. While raising awareness of these resources is a good thing, this year I would like to do a little more.

From my own experience in dealing with depression, I know sometimes those of us who would benefit most from accessing services and programs to address a mental health issue are too deeply immersed in our struggles to take steps to access services or even believe that any counselling or medical services will help. There was a time in my life where I was depressed but did not even know it. At the beginning of my career when I was in law school, my brother died near the end of the school term, just as exams were scheduled. I pressed ahead with my exams and other responsibilities without taking time to deal with my grief. It was months later, during an interview for an articling position, when I was asked about any obstacles I had encountered during law school, that I was overwhelmed by the emotions I had been bottling up and cried. On the outside, I was functioning at a high level, but on the inside, just below the surface, I was crumbling. I was overwhelmed and full of desperation.

If someone had sent me a notice with information about mental health resources, I would not have made the connection that the resources would benefit me. I had an undergraduate degree in psychology, yet believed that depression meant not being able to get out of bed or get dressed. I didn’t know that symptoms vary or recognize the significance of some of my recurring thoughts. I was raised in a family that prided themselves as being “stoic” in the face of tragedy and hardship — mental health issues were not discussed.

When you are in the thick of depression, it affects self-awareness. Sometimes it takes a friendly check-in and gentle guidance. For me, what helped was that in the midst of feeling overwhelmed and not knowing what to do or where to turn, I made a call to a law school mate who was a friend. She asked me if I was all right. After I said yes, she paused, then asked me again: are you sure you’re all right? I then broke down and told her what I was feeling. It was hard to state the first words, but she listened without judgment and expressed empathy, which made it easier for me to continue speaking. She very gently, with my consent, helped me connect with a doctor who was also empathic and who in turn made sure I received all the resources I needed. I am so grateful she took the time to listen and care.

Today, for me, I have learned to recognize the early signs of when my depression returns. I make sure that I seek out the help I need at the initial signs. I now know that the resources can make a huge difference and that there is no shame in reaching out for help.

This year’s theme for Mental Health Week is empathy. Any one of us can show empathy. Any one of us can be that friend or colleague that listens without judgment. Each of us can check in with each other, especially with a colleague you know or believe may be struggling with their health. Ask them, without judgment, if they are all right. If their response makes you feel it appropriate to do so, consider guiding them to the information described in this video presentation by LifeWorks. It describes support and programs that are available for your mental health, but also for other areas where it would help to talk to someone. Take care of yourself and each other, and be well.