The Americas / Mental Health in Challenging Times
We are all aware of the major challenges we have faced in the past two to three years. Covid of course being top of the list, with lockdowns, death of loved ones, businesses failing and a huge increase in mental health problems. No sooner had we begun to emerge from the pandemic than we saw Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the global migration crisis dramatically increase. Many nations have stepped up assisting Afghans, Syrians, Venezuelans, Ukrainians and many more. The help required has hugely increased the strain on mental health services for both the refugees and the local populations assisting those from very different parts of the world. The war in Ukraine has brought with it huge increases in energy costs- costs that are unsustainable for many in our society. It is a crisis that will worsen as the year draws on.
Life’s major stressors
Some of the major stressors that we face in life are:
• Death of a spouse, close family member or friend
• Personal injury or illness
• Dismissal from work
• Moving house
During COVID many of us have sadly experienced all too many of these major stressors. Now think about the stress of a nation becoming a republic. There is a new constitution to consider; who will be the head of state; how will it be governed; what controls should be introduced to stop bribery and corruption. How will relationships develop with other countries, consideration of old injustices, the need to move on. Then there are personal considerations. How will our work as lawyers change? Are we going to be secure in our jobs? Will democracy itself be under threat? Such monumental changes to a country are, unsurprisingly, not considered on the list of life’s major stressors.
As lawyers we are very good problem solvers. We can help with drafting new constitutions, we ensured the rule of law continued throughout Covid, we are working with governments to ensure correct immigration laws are in place, and we are advising on the energy crisis. What we are not so good at is thinking of our own mental health and that of our colleagues.
Try to take a step back from these crises. When did you last stop to consider your wellbeing? Think about your sleeping patterns, your work/life balance. Are you exercising enough, taking time out just for yourself? It is all too easy to become wrapped up in what is going on around us, neglecting our own needs. Given the major crises, now is more important than ever to think about your own wellbeing.
In today’s world, one’s home and workplace ought to be psychologically safe and healthy. Otherwise, one’s mental health begins to move down the continuum of excellent to poor mental health. We need to address this so that we are on the journey toward better mental health and to maintain that good health.
When busy, it can be difficult to take any time out or even think about a work/life balance, but there are small steps you can take that will make a difference.
We must recognize in ourselves, family, friends and colleagues when we are not well. The most common sign is a change in our patterns of behaviour. We all have a routine; it will change due to a change in our mental health. That’s the red flag. Once we reach that point, we need to seek resources and support, from clinical solutions to holistic wellbeing.
Consider your diet- think about healthy meals. This could be as simple as eating breakfast or bringing fruit to work. None of us can perform at our best all day and so breaks are important. The mere act of peeling an orange or eating an apple forces you to stop working for a few moments.
Stop for lunch. Instead of eating sandwiches at your desk, take a walk to the shop. Get some fresh air and stretch your legs, even if it is raining. Try to find somewhere away from your desk to eat. Consider listening to music, reading a book or simply concentrating on your own breathing. Perhaps you could ask a colleague how they are doing, who knows where such a conversation might lead. Simply talking about your weekend with others can help give you a break from work. What is important is switching off. Not checking your emails or worrying about the urgent report to complete. Build a routine into your lunch break.
If you are feeling under too much pressure, talk about it. Think about someone at work you can approach. Tell your partner and friends how you are feeling. Once shared, others can look at assisting. Even if there is nothing practical anyone can do, simply knowing others understand can help.
If you are struggling to sleep, try to avoid caffeine in the evening. Switch off all electronic equipment an hour before bed. Do something relaxing that you enjoy. Exercising is a great way to maintain wellbeing and regular exercise will help with sleeping patterns. You should also never forget the option of seeing your doctor, ideally before things get too bad.
These have been a very difficult few years for all of us, some experiencing many of the major life stressors. There is no sign of world events easing which is affecting our own hub in the Americas as well as us personally. We are in the middle of this maelstrom dealing with our own lives. Whilst all too easy to deny, we must be aware of our mental health and must take care to look after our and our colleagues’ wellbeing.
Juan Moore is a consultant for Resolute Consultancy Limited, firstname.lastname@example.org. Juan was previously CEO of the Isle of Man Law Society where he worked closely with the European Hub.
Keith Anderson is a lawyer in Nova Scotia, Canada. Since leaving law Keith is an author and provides assistance and advice on mental health, being an active speaker at seminars throughout Nova Scotia and beyond email@example.com.
Both Juan and Keith have experienced mental health difficulties during their working careers and are happy to advise on wellbeing in the workplace.