The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Kim Covert

Let's talk about stress, baby

September 2 2014 2 September 2014

More than a quarter of Canadians say they’re “highly stressed” about work – many of them white-collar professionals earning more than $80,000 a year.

That’s not just a problem for individuals – mental health issues are said to cost the economy about $20- million a year in absenteeism, reduced work output and disability claims.

The things that stress people out about work, according to a report from Statistics Canada earlier this year, include “having little control over the terms and conditions of the work one is doing, occupying a job that does not match one's skills and abilities (either too demanding or not demanding enough), and having insufficient support from supervisors and/or colleagues.

Not having the proper work-life balance, “especially among people trying to meet high expectations in both domains,” is also a significant contributing factor.

Sound familiar?

A recent survey for the CBA’s Legal Profession Assistance Conference (LPAC) suggested that lawyers are more worried about their stress, anxiety and depression levels than they are about levels of alcohol and drug addiction in the profession. Lawyers said they want access to high-quality online information and tools to deal with the problems they face.

Identifying the problem is the first step to solving it. CBA president Michele Hollins, Q.C., from Calgary, has first-hand experience of the debilitating nature of depression, which is why she’s made speaking out about the importance of health and wellness a priority during her term.

“I had no history or experience with depression. It took me a long time to recognize it,” she told National magazine in a 2012 article. “In fact, it took people [from within the CBA] coming to me and saying, ‘Look you need to do something about this.’”

Her experience led her to promote a peer assistance component within the Alberta Law Assistance Program.

This year CBA partnered with Bell Canada, whose Let’s Talk campaign is putting mental issues front and centre in the national discourse, and the Mood Disorder Society of Canada to develop online education and information materials for lawyers to better understand and combat the stigma of mental illness. The MDSC, along with various partners and sponsors, has already created a similar web-based course for 77,000 members of the Canadian Medical Association.

Orlando da Silva, the new president of the CBA’s Ontario branch, came close to taking his own life six years ago. He says he suspects depression has always been with him, but his true downward spiral began after he lost a federal election bid. He decided to use his new position as a platform to talk about mental health. But while he recognizes the need to speak out, that decision didn’t come lightly.

He knows that as a public-sector lawyer – he’s a Crown counsel with the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General – he enjoys a degree of protection that a private bar lawyer would not. If he was still in the private sector, da Silva said in an interview with the Toronto Star, “we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Some friends in whom he’d confided warned him not to go public, underlining the stigma faced by those who break their silence.

“I thought, ‘What will my family think? Will they love me less? Will they treat me different?’” he said.  Since speaking out, he says lawyers have come up to him and said, “Welcome to my world.”

Still, if it “means someone says, ‘If da Silva can get in front of a podium and say these things, then I can pick up the phone and call someone and talk about it,’” it’s worth it, he says.

To reach LPAC’s 24-hour help line, call 1-800-667-5722.

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