To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, how loneliness, common in the legal profession, can affect mental health – and how LawCare can help with this, as with other issues

Most of us spend more time working than doing anything else, particularly in the legal profession where long hours are endemic, allowing little time for social connection.

Many lawyers who contact LawCare feel lonely. Loneliness arises from either a lack of social relationships or a lack of close emotional bonds with those we have relationships with. It can occur because we don’t have the opportunity to interact meaningfully with colleagues very often, we live alone and rarely see others, or it may be that we just don’t have people we feel close to or share values with in our everyday lives or have time to pursue those connections.

The pandemic has exacerbated feelings of loneliness and isolation. Many lawyers have reported that the downside of working from home has been feeling isolated from work, their teams and their manager due to limited interaction with colleagues and lack of opportunity to build real and meaningful relationships at work.

While it is normal to feel lonely occasionally, long-term loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and increased stress.

Connection and peer support

The way to combat loneliness is through connection. Humans are hard-wired to connect – we are tribal and social animals. We are biologically programmed to need other humans, and a feeling of belonging and connection drives our happiness. Connection exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued, when they can give and receive without judgment and when they derive sustenance and strength from that relationship. Some may find it difficult to know who to turn to when they are finding things hard. We may not have anyone that we can really talk to and, even if we do, it may not be easy or helpful talking to a friend or family member. We might not have spoken to them in a while because we’ve been so busy at work. We may feel they won’t understand, or feel afraid to unburden ourselves or let go in front of them.

At LawCare, we have a network of around 90 trained peer supporters, people who work in, or have worked in, the legal profession who may have been through difficult times themselves and can offer one-to-one support, friendship and mentoring over two or three telephone calls to those who need it. They understand life in the law and all its challenges – this is what makes our support service unique and our supporters well placed to help other legal professionals: they use their own lived experiences to help others. 

Getting emotional support from people who have similar experiences can improve wellbeing, increase self-esteem and confidence, provide hope that we can move on from a difficult situation and help us manage it better. A review of over 1,000 research studies on peer support found that it helps people feel more knowledgeable, confident, happy, and less isolated and alone.

One of our supporters, Simon, explains: “Life doesn't run in straight lines. It's important for people to know that they can talk openly, confidentially and without ever feeling they're being judged, no matter what the issue is that is troubling them, be it stress, anxiety, addiction or anything else. Being able to speak with another member of the legal profession helps too. All of this is uniquely available at LawCare."   

Andy, a Scottish lawyer (not his real name), contacted us for support this year. He says: “I was very fortunate to discover that my employer had a connection with LawCare. That meant I knew about LawCare when a good friend made me aware of their peer support scheme.  As I recover from a long struggle with mental health problems, my peer supporter is proving to be a very helpful connection and I really value the fact that he can relate at a personal and professional level. It’s very encouraging to speak with a fellow lawyer who has been there and is happy and successful on the other side of his own struggle.” 

Applying for peer support

If you feel a peer supporter could help you, visit www.lawcare.org.uk/peersupport and complete the form. One of our team will be in touch to discuss your needs and see if we can match you with an appropriate peer supporter depending on your circumstances and their availability. We expect to reply within two weeks of your application and it may take up to one month to allocate a peer supporter. Anything you discuss is confidential: we will only break your confidentiality if we are concerned you are at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others.  

LawCare also provides a free, confidential helpline on 0800 279 6888. You can also email support@lawcare.org.uk or access online chat and other resources at www.lawcare.org.uk

The Author

Elizabeth Rimmer is chief executive of LawCare

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