Mental Health Awareness Week comes round again this month. Those seeking to raise awareness of the related issues have achieved considerable success in recent years – but to what extent have practical results followed?

Many legal firms now proclaim an emphasis on staff wellbeing, though we have heard suggestions that such concern is not always experienced by those on the front line. In a large organisation, it can be difficult to translate principles into practice with a measure of consistency; so what can be done?

At the end of the day, staff wellbeing has to become a matter of culture. This month, for example, LawCare writes (p 24) on embedding a focus on wellbeing into performance reviews and other communication channels – and if these don’t exist, they ought to – as a means of ensuring the acceptance and recognition of mental health and stress-related issues as matters that it is fine to discuss openly.

There may be unconscious as well as conscious resistance. Most professions are inherently stressful in requiring the deployment of specialist skills for the benefit of an often-demanding section of the public, and law is right up there, given unpredictable levels of demand for services and the tight deadlines often involved. And a measure of stress can help to ensure a focus on getting the job done – just as when monthly magazine deadlines loom! Thus there will be those who are quite comfortable with a measure of stress and may assume that colleagues are no worse off, certainly not to the extent of needing targeted support. But that lack of awareness can be just as detrimental as someone who pooh-poohs the very idea that people should need help in coping with the demands of their career.

The long hours culture that took hold in the 80s and 90s is no longer as dominant, but it is not dead. Organisations of all types need to be continually re-examining their working practices, employee care policies, and their opportunities to express any concerns, for mental health and wellbeing to be treated with the seriousness they deserve.

Civil Online takes off

Major IT projects are not noted for running to schedule, and court users have been kept waiting for the Civil Online system just introduced for simple procedure claims.

In mitigation, the new system has required some rethinking of the rules themselves, and has been subjected to user testing to try and ensure a successful launch. As this month’s lead feature indicates, those already using the system can report early benefits. To have launched it is an achievement, and it is to be hoped that solicitors will respond both by trying it out and by feeding back to help the court authorities focus on further improvements.