Stress is part of modern life, it is said. Does that mean we should not take it seriously as an issue, or discount its effects?
The questions should be addressed by the legal profession in particular, as this month's lead feature demonstrates. Why is it, as LawCare reports, that lawyers have higher rates of anxiety and stress than other professions? And why should those at the junior end of the spectrum be particularly vulnerable to it?
There is no great mystery about the main reasons, as is borne out in the research by the Scottish Young Lawyers' Association which supports the feature. Workload, employer expectations (in pretty well any size of firm or business), compounded by fear of being seen as unable to cope and therefore missing out on the vital next step in a career, all combine with the legal culture of perfectionism so that many who suffer simply keep it to themselves.
Should this be accepted? The SYLA, which is to be commended for its work to uncover the extent of the problem, states in terms that nothing less than the future mental health of the profession is at stake. Nor should we turn a blind eye to the resulting effects on physical health.
It has always been more difficult to have mental health taken seriously as something deserving of resources to tackle it, compared with the attention given to physical health, though campaigners are now having some success in raising its profile. But when stress is shown to be so widespread, it would be folly not to tackle it with a good deal more urgency than has been seen to date.
Remember that despite the current influx of women to the profession, we are still losing too many at some years post-qualified, and for some at least it is the pressures of a legal career that push them out, especially when it comes to trying to combine it with family. But that is only one symptom of something that affects most junior lawyers, and it is simply not good enough if the profession collectively regards trial by ordeal as an acceptable way of sorting out who will survive in the longer term.
The SYLA concludes by calling for a full and open discussion of the extent of the problem of stress and what can be done to address it. The Journal is pleased to act as the forum through which the subject is being raised. We hope that all those with an interest in the wellbeing of the profession will respond.