Mental Health while WFH
It’s fair to say that the last year has been a strange one. Whilst we have all been advised and ordered to stay away from one another and lock ourselves away in isolation, life in law does not stop and that is especially relevant for those who are in education and those who are attempting to kick start their careers. That is why we at the MJLD are doing our utmost to support students and junior lawyers through these challenging times.
As one of the MJLD’s Education Representatives, I am proud to have coordinated the MJLD’s mentor scheme, where members of the committee are assisting UOL and LJMU in supporting students through these difficult times. My colleague and fellow committee member Lucy Parr is coordinating our ongoing court shadowing scheme, which provides students with vital experience. We held a virtual event in October with a speaker from Chadwick Knot, which provided attendees with what to expect in applying for jobs from the perspective of a recruiter. We are hoping to hold our next education event in mid to late March which will focus on training contract interviews. If this is of interest, please keep an eye on the social feeds of the MJLD nearer to the time. I also just wanted to say a quick thank you to Erin Watkinson (Brodie Jackson Canter) and Matt Kayoka (Irwin Mitchell) whom are both members of the MJLD Education subcommittee for their hard work and commitment so far this year.
It has been a difficult year for all and one which has meant legal professionals have quickly had to adapt to what is the “new normal”. Personally, I have worked from home almost exclusively since the restrictions first came into force in March of last year. I am pleased to work for a firm who have allowed this and this has assisted me in keeping myself and my family safe. However, this has brought its own challenges and being stuck at home for such extended periods of time has taken a toll on my mental health. I have struggled with anxiety and depression over the years and by putting a number of steps in place, I have been able to come out of it a stronger person, but the last year has been a big change. Falling out of my routine, being starved of social interaction and feeling like I am constantly staring at the same four walls has caused some issues to reappear.
This will be common amongst legal professionals who are stuck at home. A recent study of UK SME employers showed that 47% of those asked told them that their mental health had been negatively impacted by working from home. Interestingly, a report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that people are spending 48.5 minutes more at their desk each day, translating as over 4 extra working hours a week. It is understandable that this has happened in light of no longer having to commute, whilst the pressures on chargeable hours and revenue targets are perhaps bigger than ever given the uneasy economic situation.
I want to talk about some of the things I have been doing over the last few months. These things are of course specific to me and may not work for everyone, but if you are struggling, I encourage you to give them a try.
- Stay in touch and check in with your colleagues. It is so easy to fall away and feel disconnected from your team. Whilst Zoom calls aren’t for everyone, keeping in touch via text and group chats is a simple way to keep involved and give our brains some of the interaction we need. When I have an issue or need to ask a question to a colleague, I often just give them a call. The chances are that they would appreciate a quick chat and being asked how they are just as much as you would.
- At the time of writing, government restrictions allow one outdoor exercise per day. I ensure I get out of the house for this exercise, whether that be for a run, a bike ride or simply going for a walk in the park.
- Sticking to a routine. I initially found this to be difficult and found myself eating and sleeping at strange times. Now, I do my best to get up and go to bed at the same time, schedule in my exercise, eating at specific times and keeping my work hours to what they should be.
- Try something new. I have recently taken up yoga which I have found to be very beneficial to my mental health. This has given me something to focus on outside of work. My next plan is to learn to play piano.
- Keep your work and personal space separate. I know how tempting it can be to turn your laptop on first thing of a cold morning and to tuck yourself back into bed to keep warm. I find I am able to focus when I stick to my desk, allowing me to be more productive and therefore able to log off on time.
There is lots of support out there and available if you are still struggling. Your first point of call should be your line manager and they may be able to assist. Many work places have mental health first aiders on hand and there is no shame in asking for support. Externally, there are charities such as LawCare. LawCare specialise in supporting anyone in the legal community experiencing mental health and wellbeing problems. They have lots of information on their website and they also have a helpline and live chat support system, which can be found in the link below.
The vaccine rollout is now in full flow and we hope we will start to see the light at the end of the tunnel soon. We are very much looking forward to running attended events when the time comes! If you would like to get involved in anything Merseyside Junior Lawyer Division related, please contact me at email@example.com and I will be happy to assist.
Matthew Chorley (Weightmans LLP)
MJLD Education Representative