Mental health problems affect 1 in 4 people in Australia at any given time. As a legal professional you are bound to encounter clients who are experiencing mental health problems. Mental health problems can compound legal problems and can sometimes undermine legal solutions. Dealing with a legal problem can be very stressful and may either lead to or exacerbate a mental health problem.
The following information provides a roadmap to accessing services for clients who may be experiencing mental health problems. There is also information that may assist you in your legal practice.
A person who is severely ill and in crisis (e.g. they are hallucinating, delusional or harming themselves or others) may be placed in care for their own protection under the Mental Health Act 2007. In an emergency, contact your local mental health service on 1800 011 511. Other important numbers for people experiencing a crisis can be found on the crisis contacts page.
Help and assistance for lawyers
It is recognised that lawyers may face significant challenges in their professional and personal lives. The Mental health in the workplace survey (pdf 500KB) from 2011 indicates lawyers are the most likely of professions to experience depression (at 49%) and anxiety (at 34%).
Consider discussing any problems with your doctor. You can consult with your General Practitioner about any concerns you have regarding your mental health. GPs can refer you to appropriate health professionals such as social worker, psychologists or psychiatrists. There is currently a Medicare rebate scheme that allows your GP to refer you someone under what is termed a "mental health care plan". This plan allows you to see a social worker or psychologist for up to 12 sessions (reviewed after 6 sessions) and claim a rebate for those sessions. The psychologist or social worker must be registered under this scheme for you to receive a rebate.
The Law Society NSW funds a 'Members Assistance Program' (MAP) which provides free confidential advice and counselling by qualified social worker and psychologists to members. This is a 24 hour service. Law Care is also available to help solicitors and their families.
Talk to an experienced lawyer via the Lawyers Assistance Program on 1800 777 662 for further information and counselling.
Similarly the NSW Bar Association provides confidential advice and counselling to NSW barristers through Bar Care, telephone 02 9331 3872 for more information.
NSW Young Lawyers has produced a brochure Understanding Your Clients and Mental Illness (pdf 113KB) which provides some introductory material you may find useful.