End mental health stigma, says partner

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A partner at a major firm has called on the profession to address the stigma around mental illness in lawyers.

Speaking at a mental health and the law forum at the University of Sydney last week, King & Wood Mallesons partner John Canning, called for the de-stigmatisation of mental illness in the legal profession.

“People can help breakdown stigmatisation by adopting the right policies and engendering a discussion,” Canning said.  “Lawyers have come into focus because the statistics are one in three lawyers will suffer a depressive attitude in their life as opposed to one in five or one in seven in the general population.  So we’ve got a propensity for it.”

Canning has been a strong advocate for mental health awareness since he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008.

He said that mental illness should be treated like any other illness in the workplace in order for it to be properly managed, and noted that a cancer patient would make colleagues aware of the condition and be supported accordingly.  Mental health should be treated in the same way, he argued.

King & Wood Mallesons has successfully implemented a system of well-being officers, who are employees of all levels, trained to look out for signs of mental illness in their colleagues.  Canning said the support for the program has been overwhelming.

“We said, ‘who wants to be one?’, and 140 people put up their hand,” he said.  “We’re quite proud of where we are in the space at the moment because we do help people actively who do suffer from mental illness, whether that’s getting them advice, whether that’s talking to them.”
  • Kathi on 19/05/2015 12:02:30 PM

    I'm no lawyer but - thank you thank you John Canning! I've just been diagnosed with bipolar after suffering and being mis-treated for the past 30 odd years! Now I'm happy to speak out, my employment agency is aware and my artistic side is starting to bloom, finally. I'm also a mother to three school children. Finally my husband can enjoy being a partner rather than a suffering carer on the edge. It's not just the work place that suffers. If we don't speak out, how will we ever progress? No more suffering in silence, embrace each other's individuality and humanity. After all, come the age of 40 - or sooner or later - something grabs a hold of us. It's what makes us unique. Celebrate it!

  • Harold A. Maio on 19/05/2015 3:12:56 AM

    mental health stigma
    Lawyers ought know, directing a “stigma” is not legally redressable.

    Both prejudice and discrimination are. Those are the legal terms of art that ought be employed.

    Harold A. Maio, retired mental health editor

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