New action plan aims to tackle mental health stigma in Scottish legal sector

New action plan aims to tackle mental health stigma in Scottish legal sector

The Law Society of Scotland has today launched a three-year action plan that aims to tackle stigma around mental health in the legal sector.

The new action plan follows a survey of Scotland’s legal profession on their views of mental health in the workplace in 2019 and accompanies the survey’s findings in a new report published today, The status of mental health stigma and discrimination in the Scottish legal profession.

The survey, the first of its kind to carried out on a sector-wide basis in Scotland, was run in partnership with See Me, the Scotland-wide programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination.

The report, based on analysis of 1242 responses, found that over three-quarters of respondents (77 per cent) want to have a better understanding of mental health problems to be able to provide support. More than half of respondents also said that training for managers (62 per cent) and staff (54 per cent) would be beneficial to improve workplace culture.

The survey also explored if legal professionals felt they could discuss mental health issues at work. It found that:

  • 46 per cent of respondents believed opportunities for staff to have open and honest conversations about mental health would create a more positive attitude
  • 39 per cent of respondents felt the senior leaders in their organisation show their commitment to staff mental health.
  • 47 per cent felt confident about holding a conversation about reasonable adjustments
  • 39 per cent of respondents believed line managers understood and adopted reasonable adjustments

However, only a quarter (24 per cent) thought supervisors/line managers knew how to support staff in relation to their mental health and wellbeing.

Almost a quarter of the respondents (24 per cent) had observed or were aware of stigmatising attitudes to mental health and 23 per cent also said they had observed or were aware of discrimination within their own organisations.

In response to the survey findings, the Law Society has set out a seven-step framework for change. It includes working with leaders across the sector to create a more open culture, promoting mental health engagement and awareness campaigns and developing its existing Lawscot Wellbeing online portal as a one-stop-shop for all resources.

The professional body for Scottish solicitors also intends to emphasise the importance of mental health training to improve understanding and will encourage managers to assess their own organisation’s training needs to be able to make improvements. A second survey will also be carried out in three years’ time to monitor progress.

Amanda Millar, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “I’m proud that we have been the first professional body in Scotland to have carried out a sector-wide survey of this kind and to be publishing our new action plan for change today. However some of the report’s findings are not easy reading and it is clear that there is work to be done to change how we view mental health issues in the profession.

“We know that a high proportion of the respondents reported experience of a mental health issue at some point, making this an important and relevant area of work for us. And, while we could never have predicted our current circumstances as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic when we launched the survey, putting our proactive action plan in place will be even more crucial.

“We understand the challenges. Working in law is demanding and can be pressurised at times, with substantial workloads and long hours involved in helping people resolve their legal issues, which can affect both our physical and mental health.

“However we are committed to tackling stigma and discrimination in the legal profession. We will engage with the profession and respond to feedback on how we work towards changing workplace culture by opening up conversations around mental health and, importantly, developing the right support mechanisms over the next three years.

“We want everyone working within our profession to have the confidence to speak out about how they are feeling and to ask for help if they need it without having to worry about how people may react.”

Dr Patty Lozano-Casal, See Me health, social care and workplace manager, said: “No one should be treated unfairly or discriminated against because of their mental health. This survey shows that stigma and discrimination is still happening in the legal profession. However they are in no way unique, workplaces are one of the most common areas people experience mental health discrimination.

“Where the legal profession is unique is in their pioneering approach to tackling this. The Law Society is working with us to make the legal profession the first in Scotland to sign up to tackle stigma and discrimination across the whole sector.

“This is vital, to create positive changes people need a common knowledge and understanding of the issues, as well as a unified approach in making improvements.

“What’s encouraging to see is that people do want change, with 77 per cent of people surveyed wanting a better understanding of mental health.

“From this survey we want to see a change to workplace cultures, so all staff feel confident enough to speak about how they are feeling and can ask for help if they need it, without the fear that they will be stigmatised and discriminated against.”

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