The CBA launches national Mental Health and Wellness in the Legal Profession initiative in partnership with the Mood Disorders Society of Canada

  • September 29, 2015

OTTAWA – The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) has launched a new initiative to tackle one of the most stigmatized issues facing the legal profession: mental health.

“Dealing with mental health issues like depression, stress and anxiety is fraught with stigma, and none of it gets any easier when your job is to be a calm voice of logic and reason,” said Michele Hollins, Q.C., past president of the CBA and spokesperson for the initiative.

Partnering with the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, the CBA announced the initiative last month during the Association’s legal conference in Calgary. Mental Health and Wellness in the Legal Profession is an online educational course that raises awareness and gives lawyers, judges and law students information about mental health and addiction issues, their causes and symptoms, as well as prevention treatment options.

“Studies have shown that lawyers may have the highest rates of depression among various occupational categories,” says Michele Hollins. “Many in our profession think that it makes good business sense to keep concerns to themselves. But ignoring the issue won’t make it go away.”

Michele Hollins has been open and forthcoming about her own personal experience with mental health issues. She suffered from depression about 10 years ago and made lawyer wellness one of the key issues during her presidency of the Association, which concluded last month.

Her bout of depression was “the most confounding and frightening experience of my life. Every day became more debilitating and I was powerless to fix it.”

The curriculum is designed to give the profession factual information about mood disorders, their causes, symptoms, as well as prevention and treatment options. It offers support and resources for recovery and maintaining wellness.

Shifting attitudes can be a slow and tedious process, says Michele Hollins. She is challenging the profession to face it head on. She says individuals must ask themselves these questions: What can I do as an individual to combat stigmatization? What can my firm do to foster a culture of support and empathy? And what can law schools, regulators and professional associations do to encourage dialogue and open-mindedness?

“What we’re offering is the first step,” says Michele Hollins.

The online program has been accredited by most law societies and is free of charge and open to all members of the legal profession. The CBA acknowledges the guidance of the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, and support from Bell Let’s Talk, the Law for the Future Fund, Law Society of British Columbia, Law Society of Alberta, Law Society of Manitoba, Law Society of Upper Canada, Law Society of New Brunswick, Law Society of Prince Edward Island, Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, Law Society of Yukon, Law Society of the Northwest Territories. CBA Wellness has committed funds for the ongoing maintenance of the program.

The CBA is dedicated to support for the rule of law, and improvement in the law and the administration of justice. Some 36,000 lawyers, notaries in Quebec, law teachers, and law students from across Canada are members.