Bujold: Canada’s legal profession faces stark mental-health challenges

People in these jobs suffer high levels of psychological distress, depression, anxiety, burnout and suicidal ideation.

Article content

This Mental Health Week, we acknowledge publicly the alarming state of the mental health of legal professionals in Canada. And we recognize the need to break down taboos and put in practice recommendations to restore mental health and wellness in the legal profession so that our clients and society can benefit from a legal system that is as strong and healthy as the people in it.

Advertisement 2

Article content

The Canadian Bar Association, first formed in 1896, is the largest association of legal professionals in Canada, representing more than 37,000 lawyers, law students, judges and legal academics. We have known for some time that many legal professionals need help but don’t seek it. But until recently we didn’t have the hard data telling us exactly how serious the problem is.

Over the last three years, the CBA partnered with the Federation of Law Societies and the Université de Sherbrooke to conduct a comprehensive national survey on mental health and wellness in the Canadian legal profession. Published a few months ago, the report sheds a bright light on the heavy toll that the daily work takes on legal professionals.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

This first comprehensive large-scale national study paints a stark picture that cannot be ignored.

Legal professionals suffer from high levels of psychological distress, depression, anxiety, burnout and suicidal ideation. These problems are significantly more present within the legal profession than in the Canadian working population overall, and worse still for younger legal professionals and those who belong to equity-deserving groups.

The biggest concern of all is the widespread reluctance to seek help. Almost half of legal professionals who recognize they need help do not seek it. Stigma is too often more powerful than the need to seek help for issues that should be seen as an integral part of one’s health, just as worthy of care and treatment as a torn cartilage.

Advertisement 4

Article content

I am personally very grateful for leaders of the profession who take the incredibly brave step of sharing their own personal struggles with mental health and their journeys towards healing. Legal giants like former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Clément Gascon, Justice Michele Hollins of the Court of King’s Bench in Calgary and former Chief Justice of Ontario George Strathy. Their candour, openness and compassion are exactly what we need to encourage others in the profession to seek the help they need so they can be the best they can be, at work and in their personal lives.

The reality is that the mental health of legal professionals affects how we provide services to our clients, and how Canadians view us as a profession. The legal system is an important pillar of our democratic system, and it cannot function at its best when the people in it are experiencing such a high rate of distress.

Advertisement 5

Article content

Fortunately, there is hope. The report includes dozens of recommendations to guide firms, law societies and associations to reverse those trends and help legal professionals become healthier and happier.

These recommendations include concrete proposals on training and mentoring, work culture, adopting alternative business models, promoting inclusion, and committing to work-life balance. As leaders of the legal community, we need to transform the way in which we conduct business and create environments that remove the stigma around mental health.

As a society, we should all commit to making mental health and wellness a priority. We need to continue raising awareness and breaking down taboos. We also need to stop glorifying the culture of overwork and over-performance, and recognize that we can only give the best of ourselves when we are healthy, rested and happy.

Because no matter what our profession is, no matter what role we play in our society, we all deserve to lead healthy, balanced lives.

Steeves Bujold is the President of the Canadian Bar Association.


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Join the Conversation

Advertisement 1