In light of the Mental Health Awareness Month and World Mental Health Day on 10 October, LegalcommunityMENA sat down with Ammar AlBanna, a legal professional- Founder, of Incept Legal and Of Counsel at Khodeir & Partners who is not only a seasoned lawyer but also a staunch advocate for mental health in the legal field. The theme for 2023, set by the World Foundation of Mental Health, is ‘Mental health is a universal human right.’ Ammar AlBanna, akin to a legal superhero, has dedicated his efforts to breaking the silence surrounding mental health issues among lawyers.
Can you tell us about the stress and challenges lawyers face in their daily work?
Certainly. Picture this: a corporate warrior dons a power suit, coffee in hand, ready to conquer the day. However, beneath that confident facade, they might be concealing a battlefield of anxiety, stress, and burnout. I used to be that person, if I’m completely honest. Research shows that workplace stress is a leading cause of mental health issues, and it’s not just the board room, but also the court room and transaction closure room, where this problem thrives.
Lawyers are often seen as fearless champions of justice, but do they also grapple with mental health challenges?
Absolutely. Despite being seen as fearless, lawyers, too, struggle with mental health challenges. The legal industry’s relentless pressure, high-profile cases, looming deadlines, and the never-ending turns of transactional documents can lead even the most stoic attorneys to the brink. Studies reveal that lawyers have higher rates of depression and anxiety compared to other professions. Perhaps it’s because speaking up can be seen as a weakness, which is a stigma we need to overcome.
How does cultural sensitivity play a role in addressing mental health issues in the Middle East?
In the Middle East, tradition often takes precedence over measured disclosures, and mental health remains shrouded in secrecy. Our region values resilience highly, and while it’s an admirable trait, it can sometimes deter individuals from seeking help. We need to emphasize that seeking support is a courageous step, not a sign of weakness. Interestingly, the Holy Quran deals with well-being and self-reflection on various occasions. Allah says in the Quran “he is indeed successful who causeth it [the inner self] to grow”. So, where these traditions came from is a question I’m yet to have an answer to. At the end of the day, cultural sensitivity is crucial; initiatives should align with local customs and values to bridge the gap between tradition and progress.
Are law firms and companies taking steps to address mental health issues in the workplace?
Many forward-thinking companies, including some law firms, are addressing mental health issues by offering assistance programs and creating open dialogues about mental health. A happier workforce is a more motivated and creative one. It’s ironic that in a profession where we often seek justice, we sometimes forget to seek it for ourselves. However, the tide is turning, and the stigma is slowly eroding. We need to move beyond lip service and implement practical mechanisms.
How can law firms strike the right balance between business objectives and workforce needs?
Striking the right balance between business requirements and workforce needs is crucial. This requires practical solutions and mechanisms implemented by law firm leaders. By doing so, we can create healthier, happier, and more successful corporate and legal environments. It’s a journey we should all embark on to prioritize mental health in the workplaces we’ve dedicated our lives to.