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‘The pressure to be mentally strong can be dangerous’

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BTC student Natasha Kirkpatrick reflects on her own personal challenges ahead of the launch of bar mental health support network BLEMI

The drive towards promoting positive mental health at the bar could not be greater, which is fantastic — but until you personally suffer with a mental illness, you cannot appreciate the gravity of the stigma that is attached to it.

During my LLB, I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder — caused by an abusive relationship. My symptoms had developed over time; for years I managed to conceal my turmoil by putting on a brave face, smiling at the right times and keeping my failing mental health to myself. Sadly, I was terrified that my aspiration to become a barrister would be blown out of the water.

So, when it came to filling out my Barrister Training Course (BTC) scholarship application, I was met with a quandary. Should I continue to keep my struggles to myself, which would suggest I was ashamed of it? Or should I disclose my history and take the opportunity to explain how I overcame it? After an agonising period, I chose the latter.

Sharing my experiences felt liberating and the outcome was positive, but it was clear that more needed to be done. Then I stumbled across a tweet, wanting to open up the conversation of mental illness at the bar.

This was my first insight into BLEMI — ‘Barristers with Lived Experience of Mental Illness’. I felt compelled to contact the group and after explaining my own lived experience of mental illness, my offer to help was graciously accepted.

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Following a successful steering group meeting held last month, our collective ethos is simple:

• To break the stigma attached to mental health at the bar
• To promote the capabilities of individuals with mental illness at the bar
• To provide a safe and supportive network for barristers and aspiring barristers to access
• To work together to make the bar more inclusive for those with current or past issues

As a group, we believe the only way to achieve this is through open and frank discussions. The pressure to be mentally strong can be dangerous, detrimental and encourages those who are suffering to keep quiet, until it is too late. Practising and aspiring barristers will be able to access the BLEMI website soon, keep an eye out on Twitter @BLEMI_UK for updates on the imminent launch and well-being resources that will be available.

BLEMI is currently made up of Alice Irving, barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, Steve Broach, barrister at 39 Essex Chambers, Ailsa McKeon, barrister at 6KBW College Hill, Rebecca Griffiths, barrister at Apex Chambers, Tommy Seagull, incoming pupil barrister at Garden Court Chambers and Natasha Kirkpatrick, BTC student at Nottingham Trent University.

Natasha Kirkpatrick is a BTC student at Nottingham Trent University.

Keen on a career at the bar? Why not come along to The Legal Cheek Virtual Pupillage Fair 2021 on Saturday 9 October. The free event is open to all students and graduates, and features over 30 leading chambers, the Inns of Court and all the major bar course providers, as well as interactive workshops.

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4 Comments

Anonymous

—…until you personally suffer with a mental illness, you cannot appreciate the gravity of the stigma that is attached to it.

I do not attach a stigma to it. I realize it is a popular prejudice, it is not popular with me. The long and negative history of that term has taught me not to take part in its popularity. And yes, I do deal with one of those illnesses.

An aside, “stigma” is not a legal term of art, perhaps part of its appeal lies there. Prejudice and discrimination can rise to the level of legal recourse, perhaps that is why neither are cited.

Anon

In my experience, if you disclose mental health problems during a complaint about someone else’s harassment or bullying, members of the Bar tend to manipulate the complaint to become about managing your ‘symptoms’ and ‘sensitivity’, rather than focusing on the monster at hand.

Silence is golden.

Harold

https://www.legalcheek.com/2021/10/the-pressure-to-be-mentally-strong-can-be-dangerous/

To break the stigma (you) attached to mental health issues, you will have to acknowledge you were so taught and decline to continue.

Anonymous

Very few people are spared having to deal with ill health issues while making a living and supporting themselves and their families. As someone dealing with a chronic diagnosed mental health condition, I am all in favour of raising awareness and being able to talk about it openly. However I don’t want to identify with this label or assume this ‘identity’. It’s something I have to juggle, among other things. There is some danger in identifying too much with your mental health condition.

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