A colleague in difficulty may display very few behavioural signs or symptoms of undue stress and those they show may be extremely subtle. As human beings, we are remarkably adept at masking concerns and worries. We might use techniques such as humour as a distraction or deflection technique. Someone with depression or anxiety may not appear sad or upset.
It is a good idea to keep things in perspective. A one off situation of lateness or shortness of temper does not necessarily indicate that a person is feeling unduly stressed or is experiencing psychological ill-health. If you make it your business to know your barristers and other members of staff, you are more likely to appreciate when their behaviour is unusual.
If you’ve observed some negative changes in behaviour over a few days or weeks it may be time to approach the person. Depending on the individual (and the situation) this may be a relatively straightforward discussion or it could be more complex. Remember that you do not have to be an expert on mental ill-health to offer support and signposting.
Sometimes it might be enough for the person suffering from stress to know that their discomfort has been noticed and that there are resources available to help them. You can point them to this website which has information specifically aimed at both barristers and clerks. Remember, most people find it difficult to open up. Sometimes it will have to be you who will have to initiate the conversation.
Occasionally, you may find that the person suffering from stress just wants to offload their problems or concerns to you. This is fine and may be therapeutic for the person doing the offloading, but you must be aware that you are not there to act as a counsellor, merely as a support and guide. If at any time you feel that matters are becoming too intense for you to deal with, the you should refer things on to someone more senior (either barristers or staff) at the earliest opportunity,
Wellbeing is becoming more prevalent in our society, so whatever is going on, you will not have to deal with it alone.
“I had surgery some years ago and was cut no slack on work or chambers rent, so worked through my recovery which was quite prolonged. There was no one I felt safe to turn to. By the following year depression had set in and I felt suicidal. Luckily I was able to take good advice from a senior member of the Bar which included taking better care of my physical health. I am still grateful to this senior barrister who took time out of his weekend to meet and talk to me. It meant and still means the world to me. I am now well, in new chambers and enjoying my career”
The support you offer may simply be allowing your colleague to offload his or her concerns. To be listened to is empowering. You may be the first person who has fully listened to your colleague in a long time. Approaching conversations from a position of kind enquiry is a great place to start.
If your colleague is in distress and needs support this may mean [everyone] rallying round to offer practical help. Team work will ensure that your colleague is enabled to manage their wellbeing whilst chambers/your organisation maintains continuity of service to clients. Talking about mental health openly reduces stigma and normalises mental health.
Avoid the temptation to ‘solve’ issues and be open to hearing things that may be surprising or concerning.
It is common to feel unsure of what to say or out of our depth when faced with issues of mental ill-health. Be assured that you don’t need to be qualified in psychology or counselling to offer your listening skills. Being heard without judgment is a powerful thing to offer your colleague.
“I have to say I have had fantastic support from my clerks and colleagues, but it does require openness and understanding and a recognition that taking time off because you are ill is not a sign of failure or weakness.”
Barrister, 25+ years of call
The information and resource packs on this website are designed to help you and your colleagues to work as a community for better wellbeing and professional resilience. If you want to provide feedback on these resources, or to get involved in promoting wellbeing please get in touch.
It can be difficult to make a living from law and it can be pressurised and demanding. Competition and an adversarial approach to everything can make collegiate relationships difficult. This website aims to provide you with the knowledge to manage these stressors, make emotionally informed, wise professional decisions and thrive in your chosen profession.
A simple expression that sums up wellbeing is ‘travelling well’
2 in 3 barristers feel that showing signs of stress equals weakness