According to John Williams Davis, an American politician and lawyer, it is “true, we (lawyers) build no bridges. We raise no towers… (But) we take up other people’s burdens and by our efforts we make possible…” a quiet meaningful life (in a Nigeria).
Anne M. Brafford asserts in ABA’s Lawyers’ Well-Being Tool Kit, that to serve the crucial functions painted by J. W. Davies amongst others, many lawyers work very hard and take on hefty responsibilities that often have major consequences for their clients. The demands that flow from this privilege, A. M. Brafford insists, can mount and threaten our well-being. When we ignore signs of distress, the quality of our work and lives can plummet.
There appears to be no public record of any Nigerian Lawyer who died as a result of mental ill health other than rumours of hardworking Judges who appeared overwhelmed by the workloads. According to Buffalo News, a second-year law student at the Buffalo School of Law, Matthew Benedict, died by suicide in July 2019 by leaping from the Liberty Building where he clerked. The New York Law Journal’s account testified that Matthew was generally a loving, talented, bright young man.
Our law faculties and the law school campuses are not readily equipped with qualified mental health experts for the students who are constantly made to study on very mentally exhausting physical conditions. The attitudes of some law teachers (especially in public universities) towards the students is borderline mental abuse.
According to BBC world Asia report, a Thai Judge attempted suicide in open Court by shooting himself in the chest after sharply criticizing his country’s judicial system, was an employee of his Country’s judiciary. The man who apparently hanged himself in front of Court of Appeal, Lagos, in January 2019, may have been an employee – perhaps not a lawyer. With a little more attention by legal employers, managers, and law teachers, early onsets of mental breakdown can be noticed from law students, lawyers and employees, and appropriate measures deployed to save the often-needless situation.
Omoegun O. M., Et al. on Factors that Hinder Work-Place Counselling Services in Nigeria (Covenant International Journal of Psychology (CIJP). Vol. 3 No. 2, Dec. 2018) argue that “many corporate organizations in Nigeria are unaware of the importance of workplace counselling and neither do many of them recognize the benefits their organizations and particularly the employees who suffer from one emotional problem or the other from the workplace can get from having workplace counsellors cater to the needs of their employees.
Legal employers, senior managers and heads of department in this context include Partners in law firms, permanent secretaries in Ministries of Justice, Attorneys-General, Heads of Judiciaries, and Sole Proprietors of law firms who are employers (the legal employers”). The legal employers together with Nigerian bar associations (“NBA”) and other associations of lawyers should strive to develop clearer guidelines for preventing, identifying and managing mental health in the workplace.
According to WHO-AIMS Report on Mental Health System in Nigeria 2006, Nigeria’s mental health policy which was first formulated in 1991 promotes advocacy, promotion, prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation of mental health patients. Its components include inter-sectorial collaboration to be fostered with the aim of improving quality of life. The WHO-AIMS Report claims based on profile of patients seen in the mental health facilities and the nature of their contacts with the service, that 51% of all admissions to community-based inpatient psychiatric units and 64% of all admissions to the mental hospitals are involuntary, that is, initiated by the families and resisted by the patients.
Given the tar that accompanies mental ill health in Nigeria, clearer policies from legal employers, will assist in properly forming the consciences of employees while fostering fraternity and camaraderie among colleagues – a sort of workplace skills consistent with family virtues, which Michael Dugeri, on Legal effects of Condonation in Employment Relation, readily likens employment contract to marriage.
Unfortunately, the man who jumped off 3rd mainland bridge in a successful suicide going by the Lagos State Rapid Response Squad report was a medical doctor – an employee. This type of irredeemable losses could be prevented or managed in the legal industry if legal employers under the guardianship of NBA will adapt and implement Brafford’s viewpoint that “we are happiest and healthiest when we adopt healthy work habits and lifestyle choices. Importantly, though, we won’t be successful on our own. Well-being is a team spirit.”
Lawyers’ well-being, according to ABA’s Lawyers’ Well-Being Tool Kit, cannot be defined just by the absence of illness but also encompasses a positive state of wellness. The National Task Force on Lawyer – a task force conceptualized by ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP), the National Organization of Bar Counsel (NOBC), and the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL) – identified six dimensions that make up full well-being for lawyers.
THE SIX DIMENSIONS INCLUDE:
a) cultivating personal satisfaction, growth, and enrichment in work and; financial stability
b) recognizing the importance of emotions. Developing the ability to identify and manage our own emotions to support mental health, achieve goals, and inform decision-making. Seeking help for mental health when needed
c) Striving for regular physical activity, proper diet and nutrition, sufficient sleep, and recovery; minimizing the use of addictive substances. Seeking help for physical health when needed
d) engaging in continuous learning and the pursuit of creative or intellectually challenging activities that foster ongoing development; monitoring cognitive wellness
e) spiritual and;
f) social dimensions.
Personal conditions and general well-being of the average Nigerian Lawyer is palpably negligible and immediately constitute a stressor within and outside the workplace – the normalcy or otherwise of the average Nigerian Lawyer is a testimony to the natural resilience of Nigerians yet this should not be encouraged in any way otherwise the industry risk being confronted with the wood-termite-like-effect, a total collapse of its people.
Adeoye Oyewole argues that the effect of workplace mental ill health may spill over into the employee’s marriage, family life, social life and the larger society. An average Nigerian entrepreneur does not care about staff retention because of a bursting pipeline of applicants due to the high unemployment rate.
It should be noted that sometimes, what is termed workplace mental ill health is in fact a spill-over of harmful habits of the employee; habits such as smoking, drinking excessively, constantly keeping late nights and not exercising adequately. There is therefore the need for both the employees and legal employers to be adequately sensitized of the symptoms of mental stress and its effect.
Mental Health expert, Maymunah Kadiri, listed triggers of stress at the workplace as role conflict, a situation where uncertainty is expressed in different ways, including lack of performance feedback, uncertainty about desirable behaviour (role ambiguity), and uncertainty about the future (job insecurity), unrealistic workload, long work hours (inflexible work schedules, unpredictable hours, long or unsocial hours), inadequate training, poor time management and making career decision.
Kadiri’s triggers are largely normalcies in the industry. It a near culture in the industry to find subordinates whose daily closing time is subject to whatever time a Partner, Manager, Principal or Senior officer may close for the day – the anxiety of waiting on the legal employer to close each day is a clear stressor on an employee and put more poignantly, an enslavement which is readily practiced by Learned Gentlemen.
Legal employers should commit to prevent, identify and manage mental ill health related cases in their organizations by focusing on the minimum of the ABA’s National Task Force on Lawyers’ six dimensions pending when NBA, legal employers together with other Lawyers associations may develop clearer policies on mental health within the industry.
Lanre Olusola of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) Master Class, maintains that even in a workplace with the best culture, mental health problems can still arise and in such situations, employers (legal employers) should identify and support their employees who seek help and not contribute to stigmatizations. We insist that the best measure to avoid adding salt to injury is to proactively develop clearer policies on handling mental ill health cases within the workplace.
Generally, policy plans of HMOs (health management organizations) – which are generally drafted by lawyers – exclude mental or psychiatric illnesses while a precondition to health insurance coverage in Nigeria include good and mental health – a mental ill health patient may not purchase any form of general health insurance in Nigeria either directly or for her benefit.
A consultant psychiatrist, Dr. Yewande Oshodi, propounds the following as some of the signs of mental ill health, that is, when an employee always take excuse from work; not interested in activities once loved; always wanting to be alone; frequent mistakes; always sad, more time spent on tasks; impaired social functioning, burnout, anger, resentment, low morale and other detrimental factors. Legal employers and employee may look out, in a family spirit, for colleagues who exhibit some of the signs above with the view to assisting them receive medical care.
Mental health policies are as important as sexual harassment and diversity statements within an organization and, according to L. Casey Chosewood, it really is a win-win for the organization and the employee when the employers invest in the well-being of employees more comprehensively.
In conclusion, legal employers should consider publishing mental health policies in line with the ABA’s Mental Health Guideline cited above. Meanwhile other lawyers’ associations including non-profits servicing the legal sector, legal employers and legal employees should pressurize NBA to develop clearer mental health guidelines for the industry pending any legislation on mental health by the National Assembly.