The answer was no. He wouldn’t talk — that is, not on the record. It was this past fall and I was in the middle of investigating why lawyers are at such a high risk of mental-health problems. The goal, from the outset, was to go beyond the statistics and hear personal stories that could bring those numbers to life. When I reached out to this practising lawyer, who suffers from a mental illness, he at first told me he wanted to participate. He knew that his story was an important one to tell. But he eventually declined. To discuss his mental health in a magazine, he worried, would put his career at risk.
Such reluctance is justified. Our society viciously stigmatizes those with mental health problems. In a 2008 Ipsos survey, 46 percent of Canadians said people use the term mental illness to excuse bad behaviour. And 58 percent of respondents said they wouldn’t hire a lawyer who had a mental illness. For a lawyer to broadcast the details of his mental-health issues in the media, then, is to put his livelihood on the line.
Writing about mental health has, therefore, been difficult. Not because it’s hard to find lawyers who have struggled, but because most of them want — for good reason — to keep mum.
And yet, close to a dozen lawyers who struggle with their mental health did speak. It’s because of their bravery that this issue exists at all. Their experiences give life to this issue’s cover story, an exploration into the link between a legal career and mental illness. And their participation also helped us publish a companion piece, which offers practical advice on how to assist a colleague with a mental-health issue — or how to get help for yourself.
As you dig into this issue, I hope you’ll do so with an open mind. Those who spoke to us did so, in the face of professional risks, to help fellow lawyers understand the challenges they’re up against. I hope their stories spark reform that makes the profession better. Not just for those with mental illness, but for everyone.
Come see us live!
One way the legal profession can come together to stamp out the stigma around mental illness is to, well, come together. So we’re putting on a live event to do just that.
Please join us on March 26 for a panel discussion on how we can reform the profession to make it better for those facing mental-health problems. At the event, lawyers who live with mental illness will speak candidly and openly about their experiences. Get your tickets today.
More from the Winter issue:
This story is from our Spring 2018 Issue.
Photography by iStock