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Why I went public with my mental health struggles

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Freshfields lawyer Lloyd Rees on the reaction to his blog, the road to recovery and raising awareness

📸 Lloyd Rees

In 2018 I wrote a series of blogs about my own battles with mental ill health. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for nearly ten years and my blog posts covered a particularly difficult period where I had a serious episode over the course of about six months and the recovery which followed.

The blogs prompted a large reaction which took me by surprise. There was surprise that I was even talking about this stuff and then the surprise at what I was actually saying. I was deliberately open about how I had been feeling, including an episode of suicidal thoughts. I received hundreds of messages from people I knew well, less well and those I’d never met before. At least half (or probably more) said they identified with some or all of what I was saying and wanted to thank me for sharing it publicly.

Looking back with the benefit of a year’s hindsight, I didn’t realise at the time how big a deal it was to write those blog posts. To me it wasn’t a big deal. I was just fed up of the hushed tones mental health was talked about it in. It was very much the poor relation to anything related to physical health and I figured if even in a miniscule way I could help change that then I should do it.

Since writing those three blog posts my recovery has continued. I have learnt much more about my condition and I can spot the warning signs even earlier now. That’s not to say it’s plain sailing every day — far from it. Depression and anxiety is not something you can really be cured of. It’s something you learn to manage and live with. I’ve become much stricter with myself over things like free time, rest time and also doing more of what I enjoy. It’s important to take a step back and do what you like doing. For me that’s going to the theatre to see a musical, cooking or sitting in front of a great television series. It’s not always easy to find the time to do these things but I see them as an investment in my good mental health.

As part of my recovery and learning more about my condition I decided to train as a mental health first aider (MHFA). I did this through my work at Freshfields. MHFA is a two-day course and is accredited by MHFA England. On World Mental Health Day 2018, Freshfields committed to train up a minimum of one in 25 members of staff in MHFA skills across our global network by World Mental Health Day 2019. To date, we have over 170 MHFAs trained up across our global network. There are a range of other supports available too and it’s important to me to work somewhere which is committed to mental health initiatives.

There is however more work to do across our profession — particularly for junior lawyers. You only have to look at the survey recently conducted by the Junior Lawyers Division to see some stark and worrying numbers. Forty-eight per cent of respondents said they had experienced mental ill health within the last month with 13.9% of those stating that they had experienced suicidal thoughts during this time.

Our profession and society at large needs to be more open about mental health issues and how to improve and maintain good mental health. If you asked a room full of people who had done physical exercise in the last week, the majority would put their hand up. If you asked that same room who had done some form of mental wellbeing to help their mental health, the response would be far, far lower. The sooner we put physical and mental health on an equal footing the better, and hopefully we can talk more about that in the mental health, wellbeing and resilience session at Legal Cheek’s Future of Legal Education and Training Conference 2019.

Freshfields knowledge lawyer Lloyd Rees will be speaking during the afternoon session, ‘Mental health, wellbeing and resilience’ at the Future of Legal Education and Training Conference 2019. First release tickets are available to purchase until midnight on Wednesday 17 April. General release tickets at full price will be available from 18 April.

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