Mental Health and the Legal Profession

“The idea of mental health seems so foreign when we lose track of time, dealing with our own cases. I do not think there is any time for mental health when we keep running around.”

This is what an advocate told me while I was having a conversation with him. It almost surprises me, how often we dismiss the idea of mental health in a profession that requires us to utilise our minds at all times. The keyword here is “almost”. Knowing the legal profession, the idea of dismissing the topic of mental health is quite prevalent.

Just like any other field, the legal field too takes a toll on a person’s mental and physical health. One of the biggest challenges that people from the legal field face, is the idea of a steady work-life balance. Surely, I have, fortunately, been lucky in this regard. However, this is not the same for a lot of my colleagues in India.

I am of the opinion that nourishing or feeding into the idea that mental health is not as important as your work, comes from your law school days. I have quite often heard my teachers say, “You will have to put in a lot of hard work and spend lots of hours in and beyond the courtroom so be prepared for that.” I am sure they meant well and as a result, wanted us to be diligent in our work ethics, however, work being of utmost importance over your own health seems a little unhealthy.

I have always been advocating for mental health and during the pandemic started a newsletter of my own on mental health as well. Hence, it is important for me to personally state that bad mental health days lead to worse physical health. They say it is all in the mind, but what if your mind refuses to cooperate with your body?

Law and the mind

The legal profession – be it research, drafting, advising clients, notices, meeting deadlines, assisting the bar associations, etc., is such that requires you to use your brain to the fullest. While we are all utilising our brain, we tend to forget that it needs rest too. A lot of my colleagues may or may not get the entire sleep. Your case may be of utmost diligence that it becomes a life or death issue. One skip of a heartbeat and you lose everything at stake. Hence, the only time we are able to look after ourselves is when we are actually, physically sick.

Young lawyers, especially those without a backdrop of the legal profession may have to burn many more midnight oils to leave an imprint on the soil.

How to work on yourself?

There are some things that I have tried personally. I do not say that they will work a hundred per cent, but it has helped me overcome anxiety to an extent. No, I am not going to the meditation and journaling and all of that (even though I do journal), because not every one of us has the leisure time for that, so here are some of the tips that I personally follow:

  1. Allowing ourselves to take breaks – Whether it is a brief 5-minute walk, switching to read from a case file to any other book or playing a game for 5 minutes. Anything that helps you relieve stress. I do not mean that you leave the work aside, however, I do mean to take breaks whenever you can.
  2. Not skipping meals – No matter how much in a hurry you are, one thing that I have learnt is not to skip meals. Even if you have one single sandwich, have it. It will keep your mind healthy enough to focus on the tasks.
  3. Talk to people – When I say, that you have to talk to people, I mean it. Actually have good conversations. Reach out to old friends, colleagues, family, and anyone you can have a conversation with. Express what you feel. On the days you leave early from work, give yourself some rest. Sleep in, and have conversations. Meet friends if you would like to. Do anything and everything not to stay aloof. It will worsen your mental health.
  4. Have friends beyond work – Surely, your work colleagues are wonderful people to be with, but, having friends beyond the ones you work with helps you steer conversations away from work. It is a small thing, but conversing about your interests other than law, really works well.

How can we make it easier for others?

I have heard tales of so many people saying that even if we were to listen to pieces of advice on working on ourselves, we do not have the environment to bloom. A beautiful quote that I had come across once was, “when you see the plant not blooming properly, you change the soil, not the plant itself” and that made me think.

Let us make the legal field a better place, one step at a time. So what can we do?

  1. Lend an ear – if your friend from the legal field reaches out to you to talk about how they are feeling, listen to them and validate them. Especially if you are in the legal field yourself. Do not hit them with “this is how it is and we have to deal with it”. They already know that. Instead, sympathise with them and understand where they are coming from.
  2. Make the space mental-health friendly. This should be the norm, unfortunately, it is not. Talking about anxiety, depression, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is still taboo and the only way we can be more inclusive is to have conversations about these and have a practice where people accept the differences and make it an inclusive space for others.
  3. Encouraging breaks. Nobody is an AI powered robot and surely as much as the talks of AI lawyers replacing actual ones take place, it is highly unlikely, at least for many more years to come. So, the only way to ensure that we are working well is by taking breaks. In my opinion, even AI powered devices need breaks, otherwise, they may crash from overheating. If we can take care of those devices, we can surely make sure that our friends are taking adequate breaks.

These are merely a few points that we could inculcate in our profession. I am not vitiating the legal work, yet a few changes to our system would go a long way. I hope we are able to make the space inclusive of more mental health challenges just like we would when we see someone being physically hurt.

†Advocate Delhi High Court. Author can be reached at <>.

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One comment

  • Awesome blog. Nowadays, stress is the most common problem all over the world and it really affects us.

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