A foundation named after a lawyer who took his own life has developed national guidelines aimed at improving the mental health of lawyers.
Attending the Melbourne International Comedy Festival makes Marie Jepson think of her son.
“Tristan was passionate about law revue. He came alive whenever he performed at UNSW (the University of New South Wales) and was part of that,” she said.
“So it’s kind of a bit bittersweet.”
Tristan Jepson was a 26-year-old lawyer working in Sydney when he took his own life in 2004.
He had been dealing with depression.
Now his mother is in Melbourne to see a comedy show that is raising money for the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation.
The director of the Law Revue, Max Paterson, says the group wants to raise money and awareness for mental health for their colleagues in the law.
“We think that through us being involved in these shows and performing to largely legal audiences, we’re able to demonstrate that a really important part of maintaining your well-being is doing the things that you’re really passionate about,” he said.
Marie Jepson said it is wonderful to be involved in a project that sees young lawyers taking time out from the stress of their work.
“What I really noticed was young lawyers with a sparkle in their eye, because it’s not often what I see,” she said.
Mental illness common in legal profession
About one in three lawyers suffer from depression or anxiety – the highest rate of any profession.
That is something Adam Lunn, a partner at the law firm, Mills Oakley, knows all too well.
He said he threw himself into his career and was self-medicating with alcohol to avoid dealing with his anxiety.
“I ended up hospitalised with panic attacks, so it got to the point where I couldn’t ignore it anymore,” he said.
Mr Lunn says the law will always be stressful, with tight deadlines, client demands and an adversarial system.
But he said lawyers should not be afraid to talk about their mental health.
“It’s a difficult profession but if you are aware of it and if you notice signs that perhaps you’re not coping as well – you’re losing sleep or that you’re feeling more agitated than normal, go and see a GP and go and see a psychiatrist or a psychologist and get it dealt with early on,” he said.
“I didn’t deal with it early on and I suffered for a long time, and as soon as I started treatment it was like a fog lifted, and you can go and have a fantastic career.”
National mental health guidelines for law firms
The Tristan Jepson Foundation has developed national guidelines for law firms, that aim to improve lawyers’ mental health.
The guidelines include creating a culture of respect, managing workloads and improving work-life balance.
Marie Jepson says it is in the firms’ best interests to deal with mental illness.
“It’s resulting in loss of productivity, it’s resulting in enormous stress claims, all sorts of things that are causing enormous financial costs, not to mention the personal implications for individuals and their families,” she said.
“I think for young people at the beginning of their profession, if we could say, look we can improve the workplace so it’s less stressful for you and you can have a fulfilling life, wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
She hopes firms will sign up to the guidelines next month.
If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.