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Melinda Upton, former co-managing partner of DLA Piper Australia, is the newly appointed Chair of Minds Count Foundation. She tells LSJ why mental health in the legal profession is more important than ever.

How do you feel about this important new role?

I’m honoured to take on the role and passionate about ensuring the foundation continues to be the strong, collaborative voice the profession needs to achieve systemic change. Early on in my career, I recognised the legal profession has very high rates of mental illness. Statistically, about 30 per cent of lawyers will suffer distress due to depression. Throughout my career I’ve led a number of initiatives to help reverse those statistics and will continue to do so. 

What are you hoping to achieve?

The work we’re doing will be as important as ever in 2020 and beyond as COVID-19 continues to sweep the globe. The impact of the pandemic will be felt for years and we must be prepared for the changing needs of our people as the impact evolves. That includes emotional support, financial support, mind and body connection, purpose and self-awareness. This is a whole new way of working and we will have to find what the new norm is. Supporting each other and communicating regularly is absolutely crucial. My personal view is we are better together than on our own. 

Do you have any tips for how to stay on top of our mental health during this period?

Routine is key. Try to include breaks throughout the day, exercise, access to sunlight, and virtual contact with people from your work or family. It’s also essential to switch off at the end of each workday. I encourage people to observe any changes in their mental health and seek support where needed. Leadership needs to be supportive and accommodating of family needs during this period. 

What has the current global situation taught you?

It has demonstrated to me just how resourceful the human spirit is. The ability to adapt to new technologies and maintain engagement has been incredibly impressive. I’m proud of my team and the profession at how they’ve responded to the situation. 

As the weeks and months roll on, we run the risk of productivity going down and will have to come up with new ways to maintain engagement. I think it’s brought the innovative spirit right to the front and we may not go back to doing things the way we used to.

Do you have any advice for law firms?

Before COVID-19, life was really busy and there wasn’t much time for reflection. We really encourage firms to look beyond their immediate work and carry out some horizon spotting and business planning. What will the new issues be? What will clients have to navigate? What will we do in terms of providing better service? Answering those questions will get us ready to be at our best and to provide value to our clients when we do come back.  

Have you found any positives in this experience?

I’ve loved spending time with my husband and two children. I’ve also enjoyed being able to maintain my preferred exercise routine. I’ve attempted to kick off French lessons, which I’ve wanted to do for a long time. 

Unfortunately, I had a false start, so I’ll start next week. I always say in difficult times “be kind to self and kind to others” so I’m being kind to myself and deferring it until I’m ready.