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Can the law make you depressed? According to research by Nottingham Law School, it can. The school has found that studying law can lead to ‘emotional disturbance’.
This seems to have struck a chord with readers of our sister title Lawyer 2B, many of whom agree (see story). As one plaintively says: “I can say that I now have some kind of emotional withdrawal after being cooped up and reading page after page in order to meet the demands of my lecturers and eventually get a First.”
Of course, some people would just tell her to snap out of it and stop whining. Surely, they would argue, coping with pressure is all part of being a lawyer. Mental health advocates are not helped by the parroting of the World Health Organisation statistics that claim one in four people have suffered mental distress; the term has become so widely drawn that it has become meaningless. Can you really lump together clinical depression, post-natal depression, psychosis, grief, irritability occasioned by insomnia, a hangover low or plain autumnal melancholy, and still have a useful discussion?
This is why I rather like Herbert Smith’s decision to run workshops on mental health. It was first conceived just after Lehman Brothers’ collapse last year, when stress levels in the City shot up. It’s not a diagnostic session; I can’t quite see David Gold allowing a couch in every partner’s office.
In actual fact, it’s an old-fashioned education initiative, giving lawyers the tools to cope with the effects of different disorders within the workplace. For instance, if someone has come back to the office having being signed off with depression, it can be very difficult to know what to say to them. So it is a genuinely useful thing to be able to have a working knowledge of the symptoms of both chronic conditions and short-term, situational conditions caused by relationship breakups or bereavements, for example.
Commercial lawyers - who tend to define themselves in terms of intellectual power and by extension mental strength - don’t like to appear weak, and very few like asking for help. If anything, the Herbert Smith scheme is a workshop in emotional intelligence. On that level alone, it’s no bad thing.