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.”