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Home Blog Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) October 4 to 10, 2020
Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) October 4 to 10, 2020

Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) October 4 to 10, 2020

A Message from Teresa Donnelly, Treasurer

As legal professionals who often serve and care for others, we may lose sight of the importance of taking care of ourselves and supporting each other. Our mental well-being is important every day, but Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 4 to 10), an annual national public education campaign, coordinated by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health, provides us with an opportunity to highlight the importance of mental health for lawyers and paralegals and others who are part of the legal and justice sector communities. It’s time we end the stigma associated with mental illness.

As Treasurer of the Law Society of Ontario, recognizing and supporting the mental health and well-being of our members is a priority for me. Having worked as a prosecutor for more than 26 years and dealing with cases involving homicide, domestic violence, sexual assault and impaired driving causing death or bodily harm, I personally understand the pressures and stressors that often go hand-in-hand with our work. The constant demands, combined with the impacts that many of us are grappling with now in the face of the ongoing pandemic, make this a particularly vulnerable time.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), between May and July 2020, the majority of Canadians reported being somewhat to very worried about their financial situation and about the possibility of becoming infected with COVID-19. Many experienced anxiety and reported feelings of loneliness and depression.

Legal professionals may be particularly at risk. A study conducted between 2014 and 2019 by the University of Sherbooke for the Barreau du Québec regarding lawyer well-being found that 49.9% of those lawyers who participated in the study with less than 10 years of experience suffered some psychological distress. This statistic is significantly higher than the Canadian population as a whole, reported as varying between 21% and 25%. The study also revealed that lawyers in private practice are more likely to experience psychological distress than are lawyers in the public sector (49.7% of lawyers in the private sector and 37.4% in the public sector). The areas of law in which lawyers were most likely to experience psychological distress include corporate-commercial and business law (49.4%), family (49.1%), and litigation (51.5%).

These stark numbers speak volumes. Importantly, they underscore the importance of coming together as legal professionals to raise awareness, engage in dialogue and tackle the issue of mental health for our professions; we can’t take care of others, unless we take care of ourselves and support each other.

There are supports available for lawyers, paralegals, law students, licensing candidates and judges in Ontario and their family members through the Member Assistance Program or MAP.

MAP provides licensees with personal access to a full range of professional, confidential services, including counselling, peer-to-peer support, crisis management services, substance abuse counselling, lifestyle and specialty counselling, as well as interactive online resources and peer resource tools.

MAP counselling services are offered free of cost, in person, by telephone or online — based on preference. Professional counsellors are available throughout the province to help with practical and effective steps to improve well-being.

The program which operates independently of the Law Society to ensure an appropriate division of responsibility between member assistance and professional regulation, can be accessed at 1-855-403-8922, or visit the MAP website – myassistplan.com.

There are many other resources available to us. The Ontario government has listed many free mental health, wellness and addiction resources at https://www.ontario.ca/page/covid-19-support-people#section-4.

This week as we mark Mental Illness Awareness Week, and every week, I encourage you to challenge the way you think about mental illness and addiction to create a more inclusive and understanding profession and community. We can support each other with patience and compassion. We can check in with our colleagues. We can look out for those who are struggling, and give support to others. Just helping others helps our own mental health and improves vital personal connections in this contactless environment.

I wish you, your colleagues and your families well. Whatever stage you are at in your journey as a legal professional, the Law Society is here to support you with supports and resources. Whether you are opening, expanding or winding down your practice, start here to access programs, tools and information that can help you meet your goals: www.LSO.ca/YourSource.
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