Mental health – is the Bar doing enough to protect barristers?

Mental health – is the Bar doing enough to protect barristers?

Grania Langdon-Down looks at how the Bar is seeking to support the psychological wellbeing of the profession and speaks to those who are driving change and those who have been directly affected by the pressures barristers are under.

With the launch this month of a new cross-profession taskforce to support mental health and wellbeing in the legal community, is the Bar doing enough to help protect barristers?

One of the key aims of the taskforce is to tackle the stigma that can surround mental health and be a barrier to accessing support.

In the driven world of barristers where colleagues can also be competitors and so much is about winning and losing, the Bar is keen to take a lead in raising awareness of the importance of psychological wellbeing in the workplace.

In April last year, the Bar Council published “Wellbeing at the Bar”, the first ever survey into the wellbeing of the profession. More than 2,500 barristers responded and the survey flagged up a worrying picture, not just of the pressures barristers feel under but also their fears that admitting they are suffering from depression, anxiety or stress might be seen as a sign of failure.

The survey found:
• one in three find it difficult to control/stop worrying
• two in three feel showing signs of stress equals weakness
• one in six feel in low spirits most of the time
• 59% demonstrate unhealthy levels of perfectionism
• psychological wellbeing within the profession is rarely spoken about

So what is being done practically to help barristers?

Barrister and academic Rachel Spearing has been driving change at the Bar. Her experience as a circuit junior where a leader in a case took his own life made her determined to press for better support and guidance.

“By its nature, working as a self-employed barrister can be a very lonely place,” she says.

A member of the Bar’s equality & diversity committee, she commissioned the wellbeing survey and led the

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