Mental Illness - Justice Daley's story

  • April 03, 2018
  • Justice Tim Daley

Mental illness can affect anyone. We must put aside shame and stigma, be honest with ourselves and one another and accept that none of us is immune – and that lawyers are particularly susceptible.

Mental illness, particularly depression and anxiety, is common in this profession. Lawyers are 3.5 times more likely to experience depression than the general population, and six times more likely to commit suicide.

Since 2012, I have addressed thousands of lawyers and law students across Canada about mental health issues, and have spoken privately to many about their experiences. What is clear, both from those conversations and my own research, is that each story is unique. Each arrives at those experiences for different reasons, but the common element is the environment of legal education and practice. This is a noble profession. It is one that I was proud to belong to for 23 years. But I now understand that it has risks that must be carefully managed.

My experience with mental illness began many years ago. It had its genesis in the death of my wife. I found myself a single father. I remarried, we added to our family and I built a law practice. But the failure to deal with my loss combined with the pressures of life and my practice triggered my gradual descent into depression. But it wasn't until I was at the edge of suicide that I finally recognized I had a problem.

Those around me knew there was something wrong but didn’t understand the cause. They pushed me to get help, and I finally did I slowly recovered with medication, psychotherapy and support of family and friends. Within two years, I was healthy again.

My story is one of hope. I survived, recovered and moved on. I am still here for my family and community. And I have not suffered from stigma or shame. This can be anyone’s story as well.

Unlike with almost any other disease, often the last person to recognize the presence of mental illness is the person suffering from it. There is no blood test, x-ray or CAT scan that can verify mental illness. For most, it is subtle, gradual and ultimately life-changing or life-ending if not recognized early.

My advice to anyone in law school or practising law is to be vigilant, honest with yourself and to trust those around you when they tell you what they’re observing. Get help through your LAP, physician or a psychologist. And most of all, do not feel shame or embarrassment. When I present to lawyers, I ask that anyone who has experienced, or has someone close to them who has experienced, mental illness to please raise their hand. Every time, every hand goes up. You're not alone You are ill, you have a disease and you can get better. The days of shame and stigma must be over. I know they are for me.