It was only days before he took on the presidency of the Ontario Bar Association, that Orlando Da Silva , LSM convinced himself that he could do something he never thought he would do, and that was to talk about his experiences with depression in a public forum with hopes that he could make a difference in promoting openness about mental health across the entire profession.
“Despite a lifelong battle with depression and even an attempted suicide, none of my family, friends or colleagues knew about the seriousness of my struggles,” says Da Silva, a Crown Counsel with the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General and outgoing President of the Ontario Bar Association. “It wasn’t until I realized that I had a unique opportunity as the OBA’s President to talk openly about mental health in the profession that I decided to come forward with my own story.”
Beginning with a series of media interviews in trade publications and province-wide newspapers, Orlando soon found himself telling his story at all of Ontario’s Law Schools, in television and radio interviews, to community groups across the province, and to lawyers and other professionals on a one-on-one basis. It turns out that many others had had similar experiences and could identify deeply with Orlando’s story.
Under his leadership, the Ontario Bar Association launched a three-part campaign called Opening Remarks in December 2014, which has helped bring unique mental health supports to lawyers.
“Legal professionals often work on difficult cases, carry stressful workloads and run the risk of believing that the stigma of mental health challenges could hurt their career,” says Dr. Molyn Leszcz, Professor and Chair (Interim) at the University of Toronto Department of Psychiatry and Psychiatrist-in -Chief at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital.
“The OBA’s initiative has importantly addressed mental health in the workplace and is certainly laying the groundwork for a more progressive approach to how lawyers identify and cope with common mental health triggers.”
Overall, the OBA’s Opening Remarks initiative has three main components: support, skills and an opportunity to speak out. Through a series of online tips, called Mental Health Briefs, the OBA shares expert advice on how to identify triggers and coping mechanisms in short, easy-to-digest formats that are specifically developed for lawyers. These tips are available at oba.org/openingremarks and are often shared by lawyers on social media.
The OBA also created the Mindful Lawyers CPD Series, a six-module education program designed to give lawyers skills to develop wellbeing in both their personal and professional lives. A broad success, the OBA’s Mindful Lawyer CPD Series has really made an impact on the profession. It has been some of the OBA’s most well-attended CPD programs during the past year, received highly favourable evaluations from participants, and even won an international Award of Outstanding Achievement from the Association for Continuing Legal Education in their Programs category.
The OBA’s Mindful Lawyer CPD Series features an impressive roster of speakers. Florida-based Professor Lawrence Krieger, who recently completed a landmark study on lawyers’ happiness, kicked off the programming with a session on how to be a happier lawyer. Other guests, such as motivational speaker, Lois Barth, and one of Canada’s leading nutritionists, Leslie Beck, have helped round out the program’s curriculum.
Milisa Burns, a former lawyer who is now a certified professional coach and founder of Strategic Evolution Coaching & Consulting, who spoke about managing stress, thriving at work and achieving a balanced lifestyle during Module 3 of the OBA’s Mindful Lawyer CPD Series on March 25, 2015, acknowledges the richness of the OBA’s program.
“The OBA’s Mindful Lawyer CPD Series is an excellent example of the type of collaboration that be a catalyst for important conversations about the power of mindfulness and holistic thinking in the practice of law. As a former lawyer, I understand the high pace, high stress nature of the job.
The OBA’s program has created the opportunity for lawyers to be together for an hour and to learn some new tools that help them take stock of their own values, strengths, interests and passions –who they are at their core. With that reflection and understanding, they can begin to be more proactive, rather than reactive. They can act more often in alignment with who they are deep down. Then they can begin to thrive both in the practice of law in and in their personal lives.”
Interest in the program has continued to spread across the profession. Recognizing the growing interest among lawyers to exercise a better work-life balance, firms such as Gowlings are paying attention to the merits of the OBA’s programming.
Earlier this year, Gowlings approached the OBA about the possibility of adapting the OBA’s Mindful Lawyer CPD Series for its own internal audiences. To expand on the benefits of the curriculum from the Mindful Lawyer programming, Gowlings has also recently developed a partner leadership program that devotes a full module to “Building Healthy Leaders, Lawyers, and Lives.” In it, future firm leaders learn how to decrease stress and increase resiliency in a challenging work environment. This is in addition to the mental health awareness training that Gowlings is now offering its summer students in an effort to help them deal with the transition from school to work.
“The OBA’s work in the area of mental health in the profession really resonated with us at Gowlings and the kind of feedback we’ve been getting from our practicing lawyers,” says Susan Clarke, Partner, Director of Professional Development with Gowlings.
“We want to create the kind of environment in our firm where lawyers – no matter what stage they are in their career – feel supported and confident in their ability to achieve lawyer wellness in a high-pressure practice, both from a mental and physical perspective.”
In that vein then, the OBA’s Opening Remarks initiative has achieved what it set out to do – to advance a more open discussion about mental health in the profession.
Orlando Da Silva’s bold decision to take his story public and the OBA’s ensuing Opening Remarks initiative has clearly hit a mark in the profession. They have been important steps to help erase any stigma about mental health that exists among lawyers. The hope is that this is just the beginning.
To learn more about the OBA’s Opening Remarks campaign, visit oba.org/Openingremarks
All Rise: A Summit on Mental Health
On Friday, May 22nd, a group of professionals gathered in Toronto for an important event aimed at promoting openness about mental health in the professions.
All Rise: A Summit on Mental Health was hosted jointly by the Ontario Bar Association, the Ontario Medical Association, the Ontario Psychological Association, and the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers and allowed for a cross-section of professionals to examine their professional settings, share common experiences, and identify solutions for addressing mental health needs together.
The Summit was a final component in a three-part initiative driven by the Ontario Bar Association, which was intended to give professionals the opportunity to speak about mental health within their professional settings and to identify important next steps.
More than 80 lawyers, physicians, psychologists, and engineers engaged in a lively day-long discussion with the impressive roster of speakers who helped inform the event to identify meaningful resources that could help support the professions. With regulatory bodies, member associations, and managing firms all in attendance, the message to better support work-life balance, to reduce stigma, to encourage more supportive work environments, etc. was heard.