The Connection Between Mental Health & DEI

The Connection Between Mental Health & DEI

by Kristine Custodio Suero, ACP

September 2022

Discussions revolving around mental health during these challenging times are frequent. The impacts can be far and wide when employees navigate personal and professional issues while dealing with a global pandemic, a looming recession, and potential job loss. Add that to an already pressure-filled environment working in the law. Well-established research and resources connected to lawyers and mental health exist, yet the legal professionals who work side-by-side on the same matters with those lawyers have sparse dedicated internal resources or strategies available.

Associate Professor and Director of Legal Studies at Ursuline College Anne Murphy Brown, J.D. in her article, Mental Health for Paralegals, cites an August 12, 2019 article from ALM Media (formerly, American Lawyer Media):

“[D]espite a plethora of resources available at several large firms today, including on-site mental health professionals and wellness applications, many have not extended their mental health resources firmwide. A survey of 30 AM Law firms found that 36% of firms that say they offer mental health programming do not extend those to programs to their professional staff.

This bifurcated mental health treatment is actually symptomatic of one of the most acute stress factors afflicting law firm professionals: a power hierarchy that devalues professional staff.”

In the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion, being valued is being included. In a Forbes article authored by Garen Staglin titled The Essential Role Of Mental Health For A Diverse, Inclusive Workplace he writes: “…every employer should see accessible, inclusive mental health as both an ethical imperative and a new strategic priority. Now is the time for action to address long-standing mental health care gaps and disparities.” Staglin further advises, “Training, educating, and empowering managers to lead on both mental health and inclusion – and how the two intersect – can speed needed support to employees from diverse backgrounds.”

In another article written by Dr. Heather Bolton, Mental health benefits: A key component of DEI, Bolton offers the following approaches when embedding mental health within DEI strategies:

  1. Consider a wide range of topics that might apply to your employees’ different life stages and situations. Keep in mind the entire spectrum of mental health and acknowledge that every individual will have a different perspective. ‍
  2. Offer various channels of delivery. From digital content and group presentations to individual conversations, this variety will allow employees to choose the most convenient avenue for focusing on their mental health. ‍
  3. Provide more than one scientific approach; not all techniques work for everyone. Everyone’s needs are different and come at different times in their life’s journey. While one person might benefit from focusing on mindfulness to alleviate stress, another might need to rely more on positive psychology or cognitive behavioral therapy.
  4. Communicate openly and celebrate each other’s differences.

It is crucial for leadership within our workplaces to prioritize an already strained workforce and provide resources to all professional staff to address mental health issues that may arise as a result of the stressful nature of legal work. For a truly inclusive culture to exist within our workplaces, every employee must matter and be valued.