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In the first term of the 2016/17 Law Year, to coincide with World Mental Health Day on 10 October, and as a direct response to member feedback, The Bar of Ireland ran a comprehensive Wellness Programme for its members. Vice-Chairman Seamus Woulfe SC opened the event with LawCare’s Co-ordinator for Ireland, Mary Jackson.
The programme consisted of a wide range of talks and workshops, from pilates to meditation, health checks and mental wellbeing, mindful eating, financial planning, exercise, general fitness, raising emotional intelligence, work/life balance and much more. Thus began The Bar of Ireland’s initiative to place member wellbeing at the heart of its focus for 2016/17.
Did we hit the mark? Attendance would suggest not. A full week of events across three locations may have been too much. Wellness Week coincided with a very busy time in member’s calendars. However, we believe the simple truth is that it is still seen as an admission of weakness to express an interest in mental health promotion in a profession that is very competitive and still quite conservative.
What did we learn? That our focus must shift. We need to find other ways to reach our members, and that includes incorporating a mental health programme into standard programmes of education, rather than labelling it and discouraging those who are reluctant to be seen to ask for help. We need to assist our members with the integration of wellness into their daily lives.
Our members are not unique in the stressors they face, and similarly they are not unique in their denial. It is a cultural denial that is endemic in our national psyche. We have a long way to go, but the success of Wellness Week was that it highlighted this perception of our members, and this will enable us to take more effective measures. The week of events was just the start: it was the recognition of a need, it was the recognition of an essential element missing from our membership programme, and it was the inception of a new way of thinking – ‘wellness by stealth’. This year every CPD programme run by The Bar of Ireland will incorporate an element of wellness; we will endeavour to roll out a Consult a Colleague scheme in 2017, and a Wellness Committee has been established to ensure that wellness remains on the forefront of the agenda across the organisation.
We took our first steps with Wellness Week, and we took stock. The Bar of Ireland remains committed to raising awareness, to breaking down barriers and to facilitating discussion. We work towards breaking down the stigma associated with mental health issues. We remain committed to fostering an environment where our members embrace their mental health and physical wellness, and where those with difficulties can speak with a colleague and be treated with dignity and respect. An environment where our members’ surroundings offer them friendship, confidential advice, hope and a positive future.
Samantha de Paor, Member Services, The Bar of Ireland
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