The Federal Court hosted the inaugural Minds Court lecture on mental health in the legal profession on 12 November, with two inspiring speakers sharing their stories.
Peter Jones, a partner at DLA Piper, shared his personal experience of anxiety and depression, saying support from family and his managers at work had been vital.
Dr Brian Marien, a medical doctor, psychologist and co-founder of the Positive Group, said there were proven, evidence-based techniques to improve psychological wellbeing, resilience and performance.
“This is no longer warm, fluffy, tree-hugging stuff. It’s science,” Marien told an audience of about 200.
“Your mental health also has an absolute correlation to your physical health,” he continued. “People, especially men, find it very difficult to talk about themselves and to talk to others about mental health issues. We need to build emotional literacy to decrease the risk and get people talking. This will reduce the stigma and embarrassment.”
Marien, who wrote his Masters thesis on burnout 30 years ago, maintained that a person’s psychological state was a key performance indicator. He said you could lose 70 per cent of cognitive function if you were diagnosed with depression.
“The good news is that when you treat the depression, cognitive function comes back,” he said. “Depression is eminently treatable. Clinical depression is a greater risk factor for heart disease than smoking. We need to reintegrate the mind and body. We need to be taught techniques to get out of that space (stress, anxiety and depression).”
Marien suggested workplaces encourage staff to develop a tool kit to deal with anxiety and depression well before a crisis hits, adding that “positive self-talk” was an important tool for beating anxiety and depression. He added that feeling disconnected at work had “a huge effect on psychological health”.
“Loneliness is worse than being a smoking diabetic. It switches on bad genes,” Marien said. He warned that people who are self-critical, including lawyers, are more likely to have psychological problems. He urged lawyers to focus on their strengths and competencies – slamming perfectionist thinking, and saying perseverance was a better predictor of success than IQ in high performing jobs.