This page covers:
- Where to find help now
- Asking for help
- Choosing who to speak to
- How to start the conversation
- Find help with some common issues
New Zealand Law Society
The New Zealand Law Society has introduced a nine-month trial of a free and confidential professional counselling service. It is available to anyone in a legal workplace – lawyers and non-lawyers.
The scheme is provided through Vitae and gives access to three free, confidential sessions with an appropriate counselling professional of your choice. The first two sessions are on a self-referral basis. Vitae can recommend, on an anonymous basis, that the Law Society funds a third session if needed. This recommendation is made without revealing individual or identifying information to the Law Society.
To access the service:
- Free call 0508 664 981
- Fill out the online referral form at www.vitae.co.nz
- Download the Vitae NZ app from the App Store or Google Play
For further details, visit the NZLS's website.
Medical Assurance Society
In a separate scheme, the NZBA has partnered with MAS (Medical Assurance Society) to provide benefits for members. One of these benefits is access to three free EAP (independent counselling) sessions for MAS Members to help manage stress, burnout or any other mental health issue you may experience. Although this service is currently only available to MAS Members, a discounted service for non-MAS members will be available as part of the partnership with NZBA. We will update you when we can.
Asking for help
It is essential, however, to admit you are only human and cannot deal with everything on your own. Making this admission is courageous.
Many of us wrongly believe that stress is just part of the job, and we should tough it out if we want to succeed. But this confuses work pressures (such as when we are heading into trial or a hearing) with ongoing, unrelenting stress. Inevitably the latter will take both a physical and mental toll on us.
It may be a good idea to break down this process in your mind:
- Admitting there is a problem and that ignoring it will only make it worse;
- Admitting you need some help in dealing with it;
- Finding the right person to talk to;
- Deciding what to say;
- Deciding on an action plan to make things better.
When picking who to confide in, your first requirement should be that they are someone you can trust. That person should also be someone who can listen. They can be someone you know, such as a friend or colleague. Speaking to a fellow professional can be very useful as they will have a greater awareness of work-related problems. On the other hand, they are often subject to misconceptions of having to tough it out that get so many of us into trouble in the first place.
Another issue is that you may be concerned that your colleague or friend as dealing with enough and you don't want to be a burden to them. This often short changes your colleague or friend who would be horrified to learn that you don't feel you can approach them. It is also important to remember - at some time in the future (or the past), they may have a problem that they need to seek help with. By opening up with them now, you could be encouraging them to seek advice at an early stage.
You may like to speak to a member of our Bar Care Panel. They are experienced, legal practitioners who understand the pressures and stresses of legal work and who have volunteered to be available to members as the first point of contact. They are willing to give their time and experience to help. They are committed to the wellbeing of those in the profession.
However, depending on the nature of the problem, you may decide to go to a doctor, counsellor or therapist as a starting point. You will have strong safeguards against disclosure of your health information under the Health Information Privacy Code, industry standards and evidential rules. Be sure that you choose a professional who is subject to these requirements.
Asking for help sounds simple, but it is often difficult to do in practice. Sometimes it can be hard to find the right starting point. If you are dealing with a colleague, try a simple approach such as "Can you spare me half an hour? I have a confidential problem that I need some help with" or "Do you have time to give me some confidential advice about a problem I have?".
If you feel you need assistance, the links below may help you find the right person to talk to and provide some information that may be of use to you.
Immediate help needed
Sometimes things can spiral out of control quickly, or you may have put issues aside for too long. If you are worried about your immediate safety, dial 111 and ask for an ambulance. The operator for the ambulance service will talk you through the situation give you advice on what to do. This page provides you with links and numbers that will help when you need to speak to someone immediately. If you cannot make the call yourself, ask a friend or colleague to help. Don't forget the counselling options available through NZLS and MAS.
Self-harm refers to deliberately hurting or injuring your body, but without necessarily wanting to die. Getting help to feel better is an important step. The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand has excellent guidance to help you to understand what is going on and how to find someone you can trust so that you can talk it through.
Depression is not about a weak personality or someone who isn't tough enough. It is an illness with different causes and can affect people in any age group. It can also result in other problems such as anxiety disorders, substance abuse, personality disorders, and deliberate self-harm. This Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand webpage has several resources and contacts of people who can help.
Substance abuse and addictions
Overseas reports suggest that more than 1 in 5 lawyers feel that their use of alcohol or other drugs was problematic at some point in their lives. It can be challenging to decide if you have a problem or how big that problem might be. The Alcohol and Drug Helpline has trained counsellors. The service is free and confidential. There is also a quick test that you can take to identify if you have a problem.
Possible professional error
Lawyers are only human - if only they knew it. Many believe that they must be perfect and can agonise over possible mistakes for months before seeking help. There is a difference between a real error that amounts to professional negligence and a judgment call that went wrong. If you believe that your failure amounted to negligence, seek help immediately from a lawyer experienced in professional discipline matters. You may also have an obligation to report the issue to your insurer. If you are worried about a judgement call, talk to a colleague about it. Our Bar Care Panel might be able to help. Finally, remember that all lawyers are under a statutory duty to submit a report to the Law Society if they have reasonable grounds to suspect another lawyer has engaged in misconduct. They can also report unsatisfactory conduct.
Stress - an outline
The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand describes stress as "our physical and emotional response to a demand or ‘stressor’ in our environment." Many factors can contribute to stress, but it needs to be dealt with and not ignored as it can be a killer. Looking at colleagues who seem to be "toughing it out" is not the answer - everyone is different and copes differently. Workplace stress is dangerous and must be minimised and managed. If it is allowed to continue, it will result in a decrease in performance and barristers will become caught in a cycle of struggling but failing to achieve deadlines, and increased stress resulting from those failures. The Health Navigator New Zealand website has advice on recognising the symptoms, tips for managing stress, and people to call for help.
Stress is our body’s natural response to external pressures that threaten, worry or cause us to be anxious. While many lawyers are reluctant to turn away work or admit that they are not coping with their workload, this can result in high levels of stress. However, stress can also result from job insecurity, the fear of losing a job or redundancy, bullying and harassment, workplace conflict or a lack of social support networks. Ongoing stress can result in physical and mental health issues. The Health Navigator New Zealand website contains excellent information on stress at work, including how to recognise the signs. The Bar Council of the United Kingdom has also developed some advice for barristers suffering from an excessive workload.
A recent survey of peoples financial capability and well being conducted by the Commission for Financial Capability said that while 69% of respondents were concerned about money, only 9% sought help to deal with financial stress. Even if you are not in financial difficulties, you will not be able to concentrate on your work and enjoy your life, if you are concerned about coping with finances, taxes and the administration of your business. There are several online resources to help you (such as getsorted.org.nz, or the Government portal help for self-employed) but you may need help from a financial adviser, business banker or accountant. Ask for a recommendation from a colleague and check the financial services member benefits section on our website.
Vicarious or Secondary Trauma
If you work in an area of law that requires you to witness read or hear the stories of traumatic events that have happened to another person, you may be vulnerable to vicarious or secondary trauma. This is indirect exposure to a traumatic event through the relation of a first-hand account of that event. Those working in the judiciary, criminal law, family, law, domestic and institutional violence, child protection, immigration and medical law, and disaster and war settings could well be at risk. Vicarious trauma may also affect people in your family. One option is to manage this exposure through supervision, which involves meeting regularly with a qualified clinical professional. This confidential process allows exploration of any issues and their impact. You may want to discuss this with a member of our Bar Care Panel to help you decide if you need to consider seeking such help.
Announcing a separation to your friends often results in a flood of advice on how to protect your assets. While resolving property and financial matters is essential and looking after your children (and pets!) Is critical, you also have to do look after yourself by dealing with the confusion, grief and anger that you may be experiencing. You may have questions about whether you can save your relationship and need to talk to someone neutral. Although friends and family can provide fantastic support, they can be partisan and inflame the situation. Options include relationship counselling through the government service or privately through a psychologist. You may also decide to seek advice on how to parent during and after the separation. You can check this page for links for finding a counsellor or therapist. It may also help to talk to somebody who is or has experienced a separation themselves. Use Meet Up to find a local support group.
Grief and Bereavement
Loss may be part of life, but that doesn't mean that we should all bear up and get on with it. We can experience loss through the death of a loved one, including a pet, changes in our work environment, or the loss of a home environment such as a house. Grief has no standard time frame, but this webpage has suggestions on what you can do to improve the situation, and it suggests how to get help.
Lack of sleep
The inability to sleep or get sufficient good quality sleep increases the risk of physical issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. In terms of our mental health, our ability to concentrate becomes impaired, and our response to the world around us is affected. The Health Navigator New Zealand website helps you to identify your sleep issues, suggests ways of coping and how to find someone who can help.