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This article is written by Anjana Ahluwalia, an associate partner at Udit Kishan and Associates.

Introduction

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.” – Buddha

The world has witnessed a health revolution with the latest diet plans ranging from vegan, keto to juice diet in vogue; gym and exercise routines trending all over social media. But is taking care of only our physical fitness aspect sufficient for us to enjoy a holistic well-being? According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report, India is the world’s most depressed country with most numbers of anxiety and bipolar disorder cases. Mental illnesses constitute one-sixth of all health-related disorders in India. The treatment gap (which is defined as the prevalence of mental illnesses and the proportion of patients that get treatment) in India is over 70 per cent! WHO also predicts that by the end of this year, roughly 20 per cent of India will suffer from mental illness. Further, adding to these alarming statistics, we have less than 4,000 mental health professionals in the country. The suicide rate for males is 12.2 per 1,00,000 population and for females it is 9.1 per 1,00,000 population (WHO, 2008). 

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.” – Buddha

With the pandemic underpinning these uncertain times; suffering from pessimistic thoughts, a gloomy mind-set, and an unenthusiastic approach to life is not surprising. Legal industry is one the most competitive and challenging industries of all times. It can take a toll on the professional’s health, and more mental health that is fortunately not very conspicuous to notice. Mental health of lawyers/ legal professionals is of utmost importance as we hold up the fort; we are part of the legal system of the country. If we talk about the mental condition of legal professionals in the country, the statistics are dismal. It is ironic that our profession being academically oriented and mentally exhausting, however, we still do not take our mental health seriously!

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” – Aristotle

Mental health is seen as a taboo, especially in the legal industry, we are not comfortable addressing it. We see mental health concerns in a lawyer as a sign of weakness, as a barrier to his/her success. We jump to conclusions even predicting their downfall if they suffer from any mental illness/ disease, or even if they are mentally disturbed. As a part of our job itself we have a mentally exhausting work life. including exposure to disturbing narratives and traumatic experiences of clients who are victims of violence, frauds and crimes; burn-outs due to demanding and exhausting work schedules; the pressure to get the best legal relief to suit the interest of our clients; financial concerns; the pressure to keep doing better than the others; stay updated on the recent developments in law, etc. Phew! Our work can lead us to shattering our confidence and demotivated behavioural issues. There have been plentiful research and experiments on lawyers indulging in substance abuse and unhealthy eating habits that have a direct correlation with their productivity, behavioural patterns, motivation to work, lifestyle related diseases, and mental health being. 

Now talking about these distressing and anxiety giving pandemic times, I realized that my fellow lawyer friends may be distressed due to an abrupt suspension of the routine work life as Courts and offices remain shut. We need to see this standstill as a mere pause, and we can tide over through these times too. 

I recall my first year working in a top- tier law firm; I looked up and thought to myself that amidst so much work pressure and deadlines, I have lost my “me-time”. Remember the times when amidst a hectic work schedule with never-ending back to back client calls, meetings, drafting and research work; while sipping on extra caffeine, you wished for some ‘time off to do things you would do when you had some free time in hand’? Well, this is that time! 

“Wound is the place where light enters you!” – Rumi

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Here are some simple things we can do to stay motivated:

  1. Talk! We lawyers are born with the gift of the gab – making submissions in Courts, talking to our clients, discussing business ideas, etc. But how many times do we take a REAL break from our work related talks? – Be expressive about how you feel with your loved ones. This will help them keep a sanity check on you.
  2. Don’t procrastinate! – Be a professional, prioritize your work and develop a timed bound work schedule. Procrastination only adds to stress and anxiety. 
  3. Fixed work timings. – Having a work-from-home routine may push us to become more flexible with our work timings, but this approach is not sustainable for our health. Have a fixed schedule for client calls, zoom meetings, drafting work, etc. This will not let you drain yourself and will ensure a happy life balance. Embrace this time with your family. 
  4. Increase focus and productivity – Take breaks. Enjoy your favourite music more often, it increases focus. Dopamine, the chemical responsible for feelings of happiness and well-being, gets released in response to the melodious or familiar sounds.
  5. Increase your knowledge base – This is the best time to increase your skill set and knowledge base. Do online courses, read articles and books. Use this precious time in hand. 
  6. Keep yourself hydrated and exercise – it helps maintain a calm mind and body balance. Make yourself your favourite drink everyday- be it coffee, tea, smoothies, protein drinks; and mix some optimism and hope in it. Enjoy!
  7. De–stress yourself – Feeling anxious and fearful is normal in these horrid times. However, keep yourself motivated and cheerful. Meditate every day; there are so many apps available for this. Use calming room fresheners, aroma oil diffusers/ humidifiers in your room. Have half a cup of hot milk with honey and cinnamon at night before sleeping. 
  8. Eat healthy – Have a good sumptuous breakfast, but a light dinner with a preferable protein rich and low carb diet. 
  9. Minimize watching distressing news updates all the time; and reduce the time spent on Social media – There is enough research on how it makes us anxious and insecure about our lives. 
  10. Practice the art of smiling! – Yes, you heard me right. You become good at anything that you practice. A smile can hold up anything.
  11. Keep a check on yourself and you loved ones – Check for any abnormal/ deviation in their morning routines, behaviour patterns, mood swings, eating habits for signs of depression or other mental health concerns. 
  12. Be grateful – This is one habit we all must embrace. Count your blessings and you will always be satiated in life. “Do not learn how to react, learn how to respond.” – Buddha

This pandemic has exposed us to the worst, but, on the flip side, in these macabre times at least we all have begun to value what we took for granted – our family, our health, and our finances. We have now started to implement lessons we learnt in our school moral value classes – Cleanliness is next to godliness. Nature has its way for everything!

A study reported in WHO, conducted for the NCMH (National Care Of Medical Health), states that at least 6.5 per cent of the Indian population suffers from some form of serious mental disorder. According to the 2015-16 National Mental Health Survey (NMHS), every sixth person in India needs mental health help of some sort. Let us wake up to this exigent call! “Our human compassion binds us one to the other – not in pity or patronisingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” – Nelson Mandela

“Be kind to all creatures; this is the true religion.” – Buddha

So, how do we legal professionals take the stride in addressing the mental health condition of our country? Firstly, let us create/ spread awareness and sensitivity around this grave issue. Secondly, we need to stop stigmatizing and victimizing people suffering from any mental health condition. Thirdly, it never hurts being kind. So, be supportive and empathetic to people around. Let’s start with our seniors, colleagues, acquaintances and friends in the legal fraternity; and then take it forward to other people around. 

Let us promise to spread positivity around, and be hopeful for a beautiful future ahead. Very soon life will pick up the pace of normalcy again, so let’s embrace and enjoy this unprecedented pause in our demanding work lives. 

We are all in this together. 

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.” – Bernard Williams

References

  1. Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak – WHO
  2. https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/topics/blogs/5-ways-to-boost-your-productivity-that-are-backed-by-science
  3. https://theconversation.com/the-legal-profession-has-a-mental-health-problem-which-is-an-issue-for-everyone-113224
  4. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/mental-health-in-india-7-5-of-country-affected-less-than-4000-experts-available/articleshow/71500130.cms#:~:text=A%20report%20by%20the%20World,and%20substance%20abuse%20disorder%20burden.
  5. https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/atlas/profiles/ind_mh_profile.pdf
  6. https://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/health/india-world-most-depressed-country-5397686/

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