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Diversity Matters Mental Wellbeing: An interview with Sonay Erten

At our Diversity Matters Mental Wellbeing Event 2021, we discussed all things mental health and wellbeing with various law and mental health professionals. Today we look into some of the insights shared from this valuable event, hearing from Trainee Solicitor Sonay Erten. She sheds light on why understanding mental health in work is important and how certain practices can improve wellbeing.

I did my BA at Queen Mary’s University before going on to do my LPC at The University of Law, where I also completed my PSC.

I currently work as a Trainee Solicitor at Saracens Solicitor, assisting with Litigation and Personal Injury. This entails correspondence, drafting pleadings, witness statements, preparation for trial and attending hearings.

I wanted to be involved in the ULaw Mental Wellbeing event because I’m passionate about raising awareness of mental health within the legal profession. I also believe it is important for students to become aware of their own mental health needs prior to starting in the profession so that they are more well-equipped. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression during my training contract and had no awareness of my own mental health needs prior to my diagnosis which I believe has had a significant impact on me. Had I been taught about anxiety and mental wellbeing from a young age, I would have been able to take care of my mental wellbeing more effectively.

Mental wellbeing is as important, if not more so, than physical wellbeing. We all know the importance of eating healthily and exercising but there is not as much awareness around taking care of your mental wellbeing. As a result, people only become aware of mental health once they become ill or cannot cope. If everyone was encouraged to look after their mental wellbeing in the same way as physical wellbeing, I believe we would have less people getting to the stage where they can’t cope.

I once heard the statement: “A healthy lawyer makes a better lawyer” and I couldn’t agree more. In order to look after our clients, we need to look after ourselves. Mental illness is so prevalent in the legal sector because of our A-type personalities; we are constantly striving to improve ourselves and be busy, as well as the fact it is a high-pressured profession.

The law profession is notorious for its poor work to life balance. When addressing this, it needs to come from the top-down. Once management encourage everyone, especially junior lawyers, to prioritise their mental health such as through taking breaks and making the most of their time off, this establishes wellbeing as a priority and encourages everyone to follow suit.

There have been some excellent individuals who, by talking about mental wellbeing, have helped me in my journey. I want to help assist others in the same way and I believe being a speaker and a public advocate is the best way to do that.

In my current company, we have set up the Wellbeing Committee, which I am a Chair of, in order to promote mental wellbeing. We have had our first Zoom Meet and Greet in March, where work was not allowed to be discussed, and posts are put on the Wellbeing Channel in teams to encourage everyone to speak about their mental wellbeing.

Through my own journey and throughout lockdown, I discovered several techniques for improving my wellbeing. This includes starting the day with meditation, affirmations, visualisations, readings, journaling and exercise (in my case yoga). Although when things were particularly tough in the third lockdown, I struggled to keep up with this routine.

I discovered glass painting in the third lockdown which has been invaluable, I have also gone for long walks - even in the cold.

There are also several books that have helped me – Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, Ikigai by Hector Garcia and Francesc Mirales, This Too Will Pass: Anxiety in a Professional World by Richard Martin, to name a few.

If you are unsure of how to begin the discussion around mental health: speak to a senior person or member of management you trust to the begin the discussion. Or begin advocating mental wellbeing outside of work and share what you do with your work, this is what led to the creation of the Wellbeing Committee at my firm.

For organisations looking to provide helpful resources around wellbeing, LawCare is a fantastic charity supporting the legal profession. There is also the Wellbeing Hub on the Surrey JLD website which I have set up and maintain.

Junior lawyers are particularly important in highlighting mental health in the workplace, as it’s their voices that will make the most impact around mental health awareness. The current generation of students are far more aware of the importance of mental wellbeing than a lot of senior lawyers who are just used to the profession being a certain way.

The younger generations are no longer prepared to accept this. If we come together to demand change in the profession, alongside a lot of senior lawyers who already do recognise the importance of mental wellbeing, we can change the culture of the profession.

 

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