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The Dispute Resolution
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Mental Health and Wellbeing In the Legal Industry

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Paul Kenna

Paul Kenna is an experienced family lawyer, mediator, family dispute resolution practitioner and legal supervisor for Interact Support.

Do you confuse Mental Health with Mental Illness?

Too many people generally and too many people working in the broader legal industry confuse Mental Health and Mental Illness and consequently shy away from discussing either.  Mental Illness is a convenient excuse for anything out of our ordinary that we don’t want to address.   

Yet if you are willing to look a little closer you will realise that mental illness is at the end of continium under the banner of Mental Health. 

Mental Health Continuum

If you had a scale between 1 and 100 where 100 was optimal wellbeing and 1 was a profoundly challenged person who would struggle to exist in society then most of the incidents of Mental Illness that we come across in our daily lives in this profession would be in the 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s in this scale.  Psychologists have tried to rate mental Illness and what is normal in what is known as the Global Assessment of functioning.  

This scale was included in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version IV) and is summarised as follows:

91 – 100 No symptoms. Superior functioning in a wide range of activities, life’s problems never seem to get out of hand, is sought out by others because of his or her many positive qualities.


81 – 90 Absent or minimal symptoms (e.g., mild anxiety before an exam), good functioning in all areas, interested and involved in a wide range of activities, socially effective, generally satisfied with life, no more than everyday problems or concerns.
71 – 80 If symptoms are present, they are transient and expectable reactions to psychosocial stressors (e.g., difficulty concentrating after family argument); no more than slight impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning (e.g., temporarily falling behind in work or schoolwork).
61 – 70 Some mild symptoms (e.g., depressed mood and mild insomnia) or some difficulty in social, occupational, or school functioning (e.g., occasional absenteeism or truancy, or theft within the household ), but generally functioning pretty well, has some meaningful interpersonal relationships.
51 – 60 Moderate symptoms (e.g., flat affect and circumlocutory speech, occasional panic attacks) or moderate difficulty in social, occupational, or school functioning (e.g., few friends, conflicts with peers or co-workers).
41 – 50 Serious symptoms (e.g., suicidal ideation, severe obsessional rituals, frequent shoplifting) or any serious impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning (e.g., no friends, unable to keep a job, cannot work).
31 – 40 Some impairment in reality testing or communication (e.g., speech is at times illogical, obscure, or irrelevant) or major impairment in several areas, such as work or school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood (e.g., depressed adult avoids friends, neglects family, and is unable to work; child frequently beats up younger children, is defiant at home, and is failing at school).
21 – 30 Behavior is considerably influenced by delusions or hallucinations or serious impairment, in communication or judgment (e.g., sometimes incoherent, acts grossly inappropriately, suicidal preoccupation) or inability to function in almost all areas (e.g., stays in bed all day, no job, home, or friends)
11 – 20 Some danger of hurting self or others (e.g., suicide attempts without clear expectation of death; frequently violent; manic excitement) or occasionally fails to maintain minimal personal hygiene (e.g., smears feces) or gross impairment in communication (e.g., largely incoherent or mute).
1 – 10 Persistent danger of severely hurting self or others (e.g., recurrent violence) or persistent inability to maintain minimal personal hygiene or serious suicidal act with clear expectation of death.

Staying Sane amongst all this Mental Illness

When I was studying it was pretty hard to maintain a 90 + grade average – indeed I dont think I ever did as an undergraduate student but that improved for the better as a part time mature aged student.  In a profession where you are expected to be right all the time despite the facts and the law are selldom that clear cut raises stress levels.  Add to this the stress our clients bring to the practice of Family law and Dispute Resolution.  A little bit of self care may be needed.

There is a nice resource that was developed by the Law Society of South Australia to assist its members and those in the profession generally which you can access whether you are a lawyer or not.  Its called their Health and Wellbeing package that aims to expand participants’ knowledge of mental health issues, and for participants to then contribute to building a culture of wellness and self-care throughout the legal profession. To access the program, go to the Law Society of South Australia ‘s website. You don’t have to be a LSSA member but you will need to create an account and login. Click on this link    It should take between one to one and a half hours, and completing it earns you one CPD unit (for Victorian Lawyers in the compulsory area of professional development).


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There is also another resource that may be of value to practitioners working in high stress areas.  Mindscount has been established to focus legal practices on what they are doing to their lawyers.  Check out their online Publications and other resources for people working in this industry https://mindscount.org/

One of the prices we have to pay when considering issues like this is that it can stir up issues in our own lives that may not have been fully dealt with.  Thats healthy and needs to be addressed but not necessarily alone.  We have great resourses available if we need support such as:

Lifeline Crisis support Phone 13 11 14  (24 hour)
SANE helpline (9am -5pm) 1800 187 263
Beyondblue info line 1300 224 636
Black Dog Institute    (02) 9382 2991
Men’s Line Australia  1300 789 978
Salvos Care Line   1300 363 622
And Your GP who can provide you with a Mental Health plan and discounted access to psychological support