Social and emotional support and the role of individuals, families and communities in providing this are vital to managing wellbeing. We all need someone to talk to about personal matters without judgement and in confidence, and to listen to us and offer help when we need it. When we are in a difficult situation we lose our problem-solving abilities, it can be impossible to focus and it can seem overwhelming to choose what action to take. Sometimes a listening ear and a nudge in the right direction is all we need to move on.
For some it’s not as easy as talking to a friend or family member. Perhaps you don’t want to worry them. Maybe they have their own problems going on. You may not have spoken to them in a while because you’ve been so busy at work. They may not understand what your work environment is like or the particular issues you are facing. You might be afraid to unburden yourself or let go in front of them. Some of us just don’t have people we can turn to in difficult times for a variety of reasons.
At LawCare, we offer emotional support through our helpline and peer support network. This emotional support is provided by people who are working in or have worked in the law. They use their personal experiences and understanding to provide reassurance, knowledge and practical help. A review of over 1,000 research studies on peer support found that it helps people feel more knowledgeable, confident, happy and less isolated and alone. The mutuality and reciprocity that occurs through peer support builds social capital, which has a positive impact on wellbeing and resilience. Supporting each other in the legal community is mutually beneficial, it helps us build empathy and fosters positive behaviours. For further information, see Blog post, MOSAIC: mentoring and wellbeing.
We need to encourage a more open culture in the law where people talk about their feelings and ask for help. The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is suicide prevention. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. Statistics show that men in the UK are three times more likely to die by suicide than women, with men aged 45-49 showing the highest number of suicides in 2018. One in 15 junior lawyers reported having suicidal thoughts in a recent survey of junior lawyers in England and Wales. If you are worried about someone you work with, try to talk to them today. Talking could make a real difference.
Recognising a problem
Out-of-character behaviour may include:
- Irritability, mood swings, anger and short temper.
- Lack of energy, concentration and motivation.
- Frequent bouts of illness.
- Failure to achieve targets, despite apparent commitment and long hours.
- Overconfidence, despite making mistakes.
- Withdrawal from normal social interaction.
- Deteriorating relationships with managers or colleagues.
- Neglect of personal dress and hygiene.
- Coming into the workplace smelling of alcohol.
- Over-reacting when challenged.
Having the conversation
Firstly, find a suitable place, ideally outside of the office; perhaps go to a café or for a walk. The conversation could be started with a simple “How are you?” Once a person knows that they are being given the space and time to talk, they often will. Actively listen to the person and give them your undivided attention. Keep your phone switched on silent and avoid looking at your watch.
It’s important not to interrupt. Try to leave any questions or comments you may have until the person has finished speaking. Ask open questions. For example:
- What support do you have in place?
- What would you like to happen in this situation?
Use positive body language, and encourage the person to continue with small verbal comments like, “I see” or “what happened next?” Check your understanding by paraphrasing what the person has said back to them and respond by using empathetic statements such as: “I appreciate this must be difficult for you.”
Avoid clichés. Comments like “pull yourself together” or “what will be, will be” are unhelpful. Don’t make the conversation about you: avoid saying things like “I know how you feel,” or “The same thing happened to me.” The important thing is to listen, rather than give advice, as the individual needs to be able to act for themselves.
Explore if practical help with tasks would be of use to the person, for example delegating research tasks, paperwork or some of their caseload to another colleague for a short period. Encourage your colleague to use self-help strategies and to seek the support of family or friends. Discuss what options may be available to them by way of professional help and support, such as:
- Speaking to another colleague.
- Visiting their GP.
Care for yourself as well. You may need to talk to someone, while respecting your colleague’s privacy.
How to have a conversation with someone you believe to be suicidal
If you are having a conversation with someone you think may be suicidal:
- Be direct. Ask if they have thought about suicide.
- Use simple, direct questions in a non-judgmental, non-confrontational way.
- Listen to their response.
- Keep talking to the person. Tell them that they are not alone and that you want to help.
- Follow your instinct.
- Ask if you can help them to access support by calling a family member, the emergency services, a helpline or their GP.
- If you believe there is an immediate risk, do not leave the person alone if you are in the same room, but do be mindful of your own personal safety.
- If you are talking to them on the phone, use another phone to let the police know.
Call LawCare’s free, independent, confidential helpline on 0800 279 6888 for immediate support for yourself or visit our website to access webchat, email support and useful factsheets and information. You can also contact us if you are worried about a colleague and are unsure how to support them.