The 2020 Covid pandemic necessitated many things for our profession – home working, electronic execution of documents, remote court hearings and the blending of work and home life like we had never seen before.
For those completing their traineeship, like we were, the impact was intensified – we were just getting used to the profession we had both joined from university in 2019. We found ourselves in a profession – and world – that felt completely different.
Like many trainees during that time, we both lived, worked, ate, slept, and relaxed, largely in the one bedroom. Close friends since our time at the University of Glasgow together, where we bonded over a shared love for exercise, we were both so used to being active at the gym. When all of that stopped, together with the other impacts of the pandemic, we felt lost.
We recognised the importance of supporting one another and stayed in contact throughout the initial lockdown. We checked in and made sure that we each completed our daily walk. As soon as the restrictions lifted, we met up and walked around a park close to where we both lived.
We spent the walk discussing our concerns and struggles and both knew there was no judgement whatsoever. Just another person to talk to who knew how we were feeling. It made us both realise the power of human connection, supporting one another, speaking openly when we are struggling, and looking after our own wellbeing. We also discussed how there was a unique issue affecting men in that (i) their rates of suicide were much higher; and (ii) that men were less likely to seek help or to talk about how they felt.
It was from that conversation and shared acknowledgement of the need to support one another, that the Men’s Wellbeing Group would eventually be formed. We were both involved in the initial discussions with the Law Society of Scotland and the initial meetings, which became the group chaired by James, which has been running for 16 months. The Men’s Wellbeing Group is a judgement-free space to connect and share thoughts on a number of different topics impacting health and wellbeing. It continues to be supported by a committed, open (and funny) group of lawyers. There is a great community spirit and the group provides a safe space for people to speak openly, listen and give advice because we all know what it is like. We know that we need to do what we can to ensure that we speak about it, ask for help and show vulnerability where we can. We hope that this will encourage others to do the same.
On this International Men’s Day, the theme is Zero Male Suicide. This is important for us to write about due to the stark statistics out there surrounding male suicide. With men being three times more likely than women to complete suicide, it is vital that we do all we can to improve this situation. We are both involved with LawCare, a charity which provides mental health and wellbeing support to legal professionals. James is a LawCare Champion, supporting and promoting their work at numerous events throughout the year and in his role as legal counsel at NatWest. Ryan is a board trustee of LawCare, and also sits on the Mental Health and Wellbeing committee at CMS.
LawCare provides vital support for those in the legal profession. It maintains a confidential helpline, which you can contact by telephone or online, anonymously, if that is your preference. It also provides training and webinars on topics such as anxiety and depression, men’s mental health and imposter syndrome, which are fantastic and really hit home how, no matter how you are feeling, you are never alone in that. Its Life in the Law report provides valuable insight into the issues affecting legal professionals, and the importance of encouraging men to speak out – only 26% of those who responded to its survey identified as male, and men are similarly underrepresented when it comes to those contacting LawCare for support.
We also think that another way to help men is to encourage them to be a part of something. The Men’s Wellbeing Group has been great for that, and we are both encouraged by the initiatives at our respective employers. CMS’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Committee allows interested employees to shape the support that is available at the firm. It also supports employees to be open and tell their own story about mental health, challenges, or neurodiversity through our ‘This is Me’ campaign. NatWest Men’s Health Support Circle has allowed another group setting for men to join and speak freely and its wellbeing initiatives across the board have been fantastic at bringing awareness around mental health.
We recognise that the reluctance to speak about mental health can be even more heightened in our profession – where there can be a culture of perfectionism and competitiveness. However, we believe that we all have a role in fixing that – so, let’s talk when we are feeling low, give people somewhere to belong and create environments where people feel comfortable speaking up. Let’s check in with colleagues, those we supervise, and those who supervise us. Time can be limited during a busy workday, but a short conversation with someone who needs it, could make a significant difference. We would encourage others to join the Men’s Wellbeing Group or to create and support similar spaces in workplaces across our profession.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, there are many resources (like Samaritans, SAMH, Andy’s Man Club) out there to help you. Please tell somebody how you are feeling. It might not feel like it just now but better days are coming, and great memories are waiting to be made. Let’s aim for Zero Male Suicide and work together to get there.
James McFarlane is legal counsel in the Natwest Outsourcing, Technology & IP team based in Edinburgh and a LawCare Champion.
Ryan McCuaig is an associate in the Infrastructure, Construction and Energy Disputes team at CMS, based in Glasgow, and a trustee of LawCare