Opening up on mental health

Barristers have responded in record numbers to the Bar’s wellbeing survey, the first of its kind to assess the mental health of a whole profession in any country.

Over 2,500 members of the profession responded to the survey, conducted in October and November last year, which far surpassed the original target of 300.


The results are currently being analysed, but early indications suggest that barristers display greater than average degrees of perfectionism and rumination.

Rachel Spearing, Chair of the Bar Council’s Wellbeing Project, said: “The high response rate is fantastic. It means we will be able to develop highly targeted and focused support strategies for our members. The overwhelming response perhaps reflects the levels of stress members of the profession are currently under, alongside a growing recognition that we need to be better at both looking after ourselves and in supporting others.

“The Bar, by its very nature, can be a stressful place to work; from the subject matter, urgency and speed at which we are required to operate, to the often isolating nature and responsibilities of self-employed practice, barristers are acutely at risk from performance-inhibiting factors.

“Despite these well-known pressures the profession remains an environment where it is perceived to be professionally ‘fatal’ to reveal any weakness.”

The survey was part of the Bar Council’s wellbeing campaign, launched in May 2014, to dismantle the stigma associated with seeking help. Championed by the Inns of Court, Circuits and SBAs, together with the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, the campaign has received offers of support from wellness networks and services.

The results will be used to develop a toolkit, planned for spring 2015, of strategies to manage and maintain wellbeing using “resilience” techniques.

A final phase will educate and train barristers, clerks and those in a management role to be supportive and mindful of the stresses of life as a barrister and the manifestations that can follow. The Barristers’ Working Lives Survey in 2013 revealed that over half of the participants reported being emotionally drained by their work; and 65% said they often felt under too much work pressure.

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