Today's blog article has kindly been written by Neelum Dass and is a write-up of an excellent event held as part of Mental Health Awareness week. It is full of practical tips on what you can to do help yourself and others with mental health issues. Neelum is an associate in the Commercial IP/IT team of Bristows, one of our Charter signatories.
Neelum writes: "IP Inclusive and Kilburn & Strode recently hosted the talk “Surviving or Thriving” focussed on mental health in the work place. The speakers were:
The talk was structured as a Q&A session with three key themes.
1. Why talking about mental health is important
Poor mental health can easily lead to loss of balance in life which in turn could result in serious physical and mental problems such as depression or anxiety. Legal professionals are particularly vulnerable to stress and exhaustion given the high-pressure, demanding nature of their jobs. Initiatives like Mental Health Awareness Week are important because they put psychological health on the corporate agenda in an effort to break the stigma. For example, there is a widespread belief that a person with mental health issues is weak. On the contrary, Dr Mitchell considers that those who have struggled with this are actually more self-aware and conscious of what they need to do to achieve and maintain good health.
2. What you can do to help yourself
Dr Mitchell sees more lawyers than other professionals and suggested that perhaps this is because they are paid to identify risks and focus on what happens when things go wrong. The speakers offered practical tips to help manage mental health, for example, they encouraged people to access help at an early stage when feeling overwhelmed or exhausted. Something as simple as a good conversation early on could prevent someone from going down the wrong path.
In the debate about gender equality, terms like “positive discrimination” and “quotas” get a bad press. Both men and women tend to feel uncomfortable with the concepts. But it’s time we got real about this. We do not yet have equality in the workplace. After years of anti-discrimination laws and equal pay legislation, there is still a significant gender pay gap. Women are still not well represented in the board room. There are still assumptions about female roles, and corresponding biases, that affect people of all genders.
Something needs to be done. And that something requires us to be bold. Fussing about positive discrimination being unethical is for the person who wants to preserve the status quo or the one who’s reluctant to cause trouble. And unfortunately that does appear to be our choice: to stir up trouble, or to make scant progress.
The key questions are: is the status quo really good enough? Will the current pace of change – often painfully slow – suffice? Is it OK for our own children to suffer discrimination, and their children too? For me, no. I think we all deserve better.
Facebook recently announced that they will require women and ethnic minorities to account for at least 33% of the law firm teams they engage. I salute them for that. If you cannot see for yourself that, say, 10% women is inappropriate, then someone must step in and say it for you.
So what are the arguments that make us wary of positive discrimination?
The UK IPO recently unveiled its Corporate Plan for 2017-2020. Among its key goals for the next three years is to improve the skills and capability of its people. The Plan emphasises the importance of creating an organisation "where difference is valued and one where our people feel able to bring their whole selves to work". It includes a Ministerial target to secure external validation of the IPO's approach to inclusion for under-represented groups.
IP Inclusive applauds the IPO's stance on these important issues and is grateful for the Office's continued support and collaboration, which sends a message about the value and credibility of IP Inclusive's own work in the IP professions. We have therefore sent the following letter to the IPO's new Chief Executive, Tim Moss:
"On behalf of IP Inclusive, I would like to congratulate your Office on the publication of its Corporate Plan for 2017-2020.
This is a question I addressed at our Mental Health Awareness Week event in Newport last night.
Unfortunately, there are still people who think that suffering from mental illness – even something relatively common like depression or anxiety – makes you a nutter, or a malingerer, or (perhaps most dangerous of all) simply not up to the job.
And in this high-powered, high-flying profession of ours, it’s tempting to think that IP simply is a stressful environment, so if you can’t take the pressure, perhaps you shouldn’t be here.
Yet by taking that line, we risk rejecting or side-lining many talented people. And those who stay are often miserable or afraid: afraid of weakness; afraid of failure. So they’re less productive than they should be. And we lose valuable time through absenteeism, or indeed “presenteeism”, when people spend inordinately long hours in the workplace merely to show their commitment rather than to achieve anything extra.
That’s an unhealthy, and divisive, way of working.
[Excerpt from the Not-so-Secret Diary of a certain patent attorney]
22nd April 2016, 11pm
You, better than anyone, know how I struggle with the ups and downs. The bright whites and the dark gulleys. The high contrast, super-saturated, amazing technicolour dream world and the flat monochrome wash that sometimes rolls in.
You know there are good days, creative and buzzing, when I set up task forces and draft proposals, times when I genuinely believe I could rule the world if given the opportunity, or at least a small chartered institute. And then the bad days, miserable and anxious and so, so tired, when my brain goes over and over the things I’ve been doing and those I haven’t been doing but should have, and denounces them all as hideous failures. Days when the CIPA stationery cupboard seems an attractive place to spend the rest of my life, with the door locked, hoping nobody finds me ever again. You know that on the bad days, Imposter Syndrome doesn’t even start to describe the self-doubt, the conviction that people see me for the weak, incompetent and generally unpleasant person I am.
Ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week 2017, CIPA's Chief Executive, Lee Davies, discusses the support that professional bodies can provide for their members, and reminds us of the LawCare helpline available to CIPA members and other legal professionals.
Lee writes: "The media focus on the footballer Aaron Lennon is a vivid reminder, if we should need one, that providing support for those who face living and working with mental health issues is a challenge for us all. No profession is immune. We all experience increasing demands on our time at work and at home, and it seems that we accept that anxiety, stress and depression are the price we have to pay for leading successful working lives.
All of us, at different points in our lives, will need support. If we are fortunate, we will have around us a network of family and friends who can help us when we need help most. That does not mean that we are confronting a serious mental health issue. This year, however, Mental Health Awareness Week reminds us that the key question is not why so many people are living with mental health problems, but why too few of us are thriving with good mental health?
Why should this matter to a professional body like CIPA? Surely it is up to CIPA’s members to thrive in the fast-moving world of intellectual property law? What could a membership organisation offer that would lend itself to the needs of those who, rather than thrive in this world, are struggling to survive in it? My response to questions such as these is a simple one. A professional body that does not take seriously the challenge of supporting its members as individuals when they need it most will not thrive itself, indeed it may not survive.
I believe that, at CIPA, we do take the mental health and wellbeing of our members seriously. We do have in place a great sense of community and we do encourage our members to network outside of the immediacy of the workplace. Creating an atmosphere of friendship and trust which extends beyond an individual firm or industrial department is one of the ways we can create the conditions for good mental health within a profession. This will not, however, provide the critical safety net we all need when times are really tough.