Our most recent Diversity Matters event for 2021, in support of Mental Health Awareness Week, concentrated on mental wellbeing. On 13th May 2021, several law and mental health experts shared their personal and professional experiences around mental wellbeing. Today we’re taking a look at some of the highlights of this important event.
ULaw’s Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Patrick Johnson hosted the event and introduced the first speaker of the evening, alumna Sonay Erten. Sonay is a Trainee Solicitor in litigation and personal injury at a London-based firm and is the Wellness Representative on the Surrey Junior Lawyers Division Committee. She became passionate about promoting mental wellbeing and awareness within law after being diagnosed with anxiety and depression at the end of 2019. She hopes to raise mental health awareness within the profession and assist those struggling with mental illness.
“There is a growing awareness in our profession of mental illness but the more prevalent attitude is to not admit when we can’t cope. Especially when it comes to junior lawyers, and this is something that we need to change. I have come across a lot of fantastic senior lawyers who are open about their own struggles with mental illness; this has had such a positive impact on me I want to do the same. We need to break the stigma around mental health so people can talk about it more easily. We are comfortable talking about physical illness and mental illness shouldn’t be any different.”
The second speaker was Fay Sayers, a Tutor at our Leeds Campus and Supervising Solicitor. Fay discussed supporting people from all ages, backgrounds and ethnicity with legal advice if they come in to contact with mental health services and ensuring those people know their rights.
“I’ve learnt that I need to stand up for people with mental health problems and that mental health is so important. I am lucky that I can help people who are struggling. Although I don’t always see the end results, occasionally I see my clients in the community, and when I do, I smile. When they come and tell me they are doing well, it really, really makes me feel great.”
Alumna and Solicitor Céline Winham from Bolt Burdon was the third speaker of the evening. Céline discussed her personal experiences with mental health and wellbeing during her career in law. She highlighted how the profession has been historically slow to make progress in taking action to promote better mental wellbeing. She also explored some useful tips and skills on coping better and building resilience to encourage you not only to survive but also to thrive in challenging environments.
“The 2019 JLD (Junior Lawyers Division) Resilience and Wellbeing Survey showed that 14% of junior lawyers have had suicidal thoughts and 58% of those considered taking time off for their mental health but didn’t do so; that’s over half. I think this stems from a problematic culture in our profession of presenteeism, the expectation you have to pay your dues and our internal strive for perfection. Although we’d like it to be led from the top, a change from the ground up is possible. In time, as our junior lawyers rise through the ranks and the older generation moves to retire, we can stamp out that culture of presenteeism and become a more diverse profession and work towards a more compassionate form of commercialism within the law.”
The final speaker of the evening was Mental Health Advisor Eve Nwaneri. “It’s more important than ever to practice self-care and look after ourselves now. Self-care practices should be personalised. Everyone’s self-care is different. We all need something different in different situations. Setting up self-care routines can help ensure your positive mental health. Maybe you can’t go for a pedicure or to the gym, but you can try to set aside a few minutes for yourself. Just a few minutes to take care of you. Take care of you by integrating self-care into your daily routines.”
The event finished with a group question and answer session where speakers took questions from the attendees on subjects such as being proactive about looking after mental health and how to reach out to people you may think be struggling.
Post-event attendees and speakers were able to discuss mental wellbeing and network in the online event booths.
Couldn’t make the event? Watch the talks on our ULaw YouTube channel.
Our next event in the series, Diversity Matters: Social Mobility on 22 July 2021. For further information and to register your attendance for this free-of-charge event, please keep an eye on your student email.