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"As lawyers we are used to being precise and correct with our vocabulary. So why do we still speak in hushed euphemisms when it comes to mental ill-health?"

Helen Conway

About The Blog

Trigger warning: discussion of suicide

My name is Malvika Jaganmohan. I'm a family law barrister based in England. 

In May 2019, I suffered a serious mental health crisis. I had suffered for a long time with anxiety and what I would now describe as depression, but I had managed to keep my head above water. A series of triggers in my personal and professional life pushed me over the edge and I tried to kill myself. Thankfully, I didn't succeed. I panicked and in a moment of lucidity or a moment of fear, I rang for help. This was rock bottom and I had reached it. 

I imagine that many of my peers would have thought that I was the last person to do something like this. I've always been a high achiever. I'm from a relatively privileged background. I have loving family and friends. I had just entered an elite profession: the Bar. From a distance, I would have looked entirely put together. It just goes to show that you can never quite know a person from the picture they choose to present to the world on Linkedin or Instagram.  

In September 2019, I posted a thread on Twitter about my experience. I was increasingly bothered by what I saw as lip-service being paid by the profession to the very real concerns around mental health amongst lawyers. I was terrified about posting the tweets. Apart from a few trusted colleagues and friends, no one knew what had happened. What would other lawyers think of me? Would my work disappear overnight because no one would want to instruct a "crazy"/"nuts"/*insert other pejorative term about mental health* barrister? How could I manage vulnerable clients if I was vulnerable myself? Fear aside, I felt like my frustration was bubbling over and I simply couldn't hold it in any longer. 

I was taken aback by the response to my tweets, and overwhelmed by messages from other lawyers or aspiring lawyers who told me that they had struggled with something similar. What this brought home for me is that I am not the first, nor will I be the last lawyer who struggles with their mental health. This may seem like an obvious thing to say, but us lawyers do hide behind our stiff upper lips. When I was at my lowest, I would beat myself up looking at my peers thinking: "they're all doing so well - what's wrong with me?" Well, turns out that they were just better at hiding it than I was. 

The conversation around mental health in the legal profession has been pretty superficial so far. I hope this blog goes some way to making that conversation more nuanced and less sanitised. 

Let's go beyond therapy puppies and fruit baskets and get to the crux of the mental health problem in the legal profession.

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