Mental health at the Bar: the truth behind the mask!

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By Brian Sanya Mondoh, a Law NTU Alumni. Qualified as a Barrister (England and Wales), Trainee Attorney-at-Law (Trinidad and Tobago)

Life at the Bar, can I think, best be compared to a theatrical performance! Just like actors, barristers are ever so good at putting on faces, hiding their true feelings and emotions, and shutting out any weak persona. Despite the brave and confident outlook, barristers may in fact be facing high levels of stress and anxiety, undergoing depression and/or even ‘hooked’ on abusive substances. Whether at Bar School or in practice, life at the Bar is a seriously tough job and requires mental fortitude and emotional robustness, not to forget, a strong support system! This could either be from family and friends and/or professional support.
As a Bar student, one quickly realises that being on top of his/her academic and assessments workload is not even half the battle! Many, if not all, Bar students are incredibly intelligent and this means that nearly everyone’s CV looks the same during pupillage and work applications. The real test, at least for me, was to keep on top of my workload but at the same time be actively involved in several other extracurricular activities in order to stand out from the crowd when making applications.
The pressure of undertaking mini-pupillages, participating in moots, ‘marshalling’/shadowing several judges at the courts, undertaking pro bono casework with the Free Representation Unit, attending the 12 mandatory qualifying sessions at my Inn of Court in London made up the other half! Although overly demanding, this experience was a useful learning point as it taught me the importance of realistic decision making, time management and not overextending my capabilities.
In retrospect, I can confidently say that Bar School was a good benchmark for getting a feel of life in practice, because if anything, the demands at the Bar are much more heightened. There is the time commitment, the pressure to deliver and the endless reading of sheer volumes of case files and research. Consequently, long study and research hours, often pulling ‘all-nighters’, sometimes even on holidays and weekends means that social time with friends and family is gravely sacrificed adding on to one’s loneliness.
I must confess that I succumbed to depression on several occasions at Bar School because I, like others in my cohort, felt like nobody understood our everyday frustrations and/or the constant and unforgiving pressure that we were going through. I particularly felt completely despondent and overwhelmed by the level of coursework and extracurricular activities that I had to manage. I only overcame this slump after seeking professional help and undergoing a significant period of therapy, which helped me to manage my expectations and to play to my personal strengths. In this respect, I strongly advise aspiring barristers to reach out and confide in someone whom they trust and who readily listens. It does not have to be a professional counsellor. At the end of the day, an objective listening ear will be of significant help and can make a huge difference in one’s life!
In summary, the issue of mental health can no longer be ignored. Despite varying cultural and religious attitudes towards the matter, it must be acknowledged and tackled head on. This means that every person experiencing mental health issues, barristers included, must admit and address their issues. Bar Schools, offices, law firms and chambers need to be supportive and helpful, which starts by encouraging a healthy work/personal life balance, flexible working hours and providing counselling support amongst other things as ways of enhancing professional performance!

For help and advice whilst studying at NTU, take a look at the following for sources of support.

Support from NTU
Silvercloud: SilverCloud is our online system designed to help with a range of mental health issues.
Depression advice
Counselling
Wellness in Mind: Advice and support for anyone in Nottingham experiencing issues with their mental wellbeing
Struggling at Uni? Go to Student Minds
10 Keys to happiness

This post is part of our regular NTU Alumni feature. Over the next few weeks we will be posting guest blogs written by our Alumni Fellows sharing their experiences and tips on their student journey while here at NTU.
If you are an NTU graduate and are interested in writing for us contact: alumni.fellows@ntu.ac.uk
You can find more information about our Alumni Fellowship volunteering programme via the alumni website


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