Blog | Mental health, the workplace and the pandemic

3rd July 2020

Our latest blog comes from Alan McLaren, who is a Partner at legal firm and SAMH supporters, Lindsays.

Alan shares his experiences of lockdown, and what works for him when it comes to protecting his mental wellbeing.

We don’t need to put a brave face on coronavirus anxieties - but one thing we can be certain of as we continue to deal with the impact of the pandemic is that patience and good humour will go a long way towards helping us all.

There are so many things beyond our own control right now that things aren’t going to go perfectly all of the time, whether in our business or personal lives. That’s just the nature of where we are. And when it comes to all things technology and home working, there are times where we simply need to expect chaos - and embrace it.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that can be trying. But, harnessing my experience of human nature from 35 years as a lawyer, I believe that if we all recognise and accept that – while approaching everyone with empathy and kindness - it will make a huge difference. We should not forget that even those of us without regular anxiety are going to be feeling more anxious at the moment, whether that be about the state of the world, the state of our business, or how our clients, colleagues, and family are faring.

Each of us is adapting to life within the pandemic in a different way. And I’m seeing three character types emerging, all of which will have a bearing on how we view the world.

The first are those trying to maintain the status quo and who want to go back to the old norm, particularly in business. But I have to say that I don’t think we’re going back. People have seen new possibilities, particularly around homeworking. The genie is out of the bottle in that respect - and I think the numbers in this group are contracting.

Second are those who feel powerless by what’s happening - and sometimes that can be exacerbated by anxiety and depression. For some, that can become overwhelming and I know from personal experience what this can feel like. Following my dad’s passing, I suffered from severe depression and the only thing I could do was stay in bed with the blackout curtains drawn doing absolutely nothing.

Those who feel like this should try to seek professional help, but even simply talking to someone you trust can help, even virtually.

I worry that there are a lot of people putting on brave faces and just trying to get through it, but depression is part of me - and it’s part of a lot of people. We need to recognise that and keep in touch with people we care about to let them know they’re not alone, not just in these particularly stressful times, but generally.

The third group are those who are getting through this by supporting others - those trying to look forward, not back. I am seeing these people try to help those in the other two groups. Everyone’s different, but I know the only way I managed my depression was having something to focus on, such as my work - and for many of us it’s still possible right now to do something that makes a real difference.

For lawyers, there are clients who we can really help, whether that be in the black-letter law or in other ways. As a trusted advisor, you can use the time you have just now to help people who are struggling.

We can also take the chance to be a little more self-aware and consider where we want to be personally and professionally when all of this is over.

For those of us in professional services, one thing that we need to ensure throughout this is that we remain available to our clients. We need to ask who needs to know what, why they need it and how we share that information.

And, with full-time homeworking for some of us looking as though it will continue for some time, we need to continue thinking about how we manage this.

We all need to find a style of working that suits us. If, like me, you enjoy getting out to meet clients, perhaps try to have a virtual coffee. I recently had a “virtual lunch” with a client where we both had a takeaway delivered to our homes from the same restaurant and we ate it together. It was really enjoyable - and only felt odd for the first five minutes.

Now that we are quite some time into life with coronavirus, it can seem hard to lift ourselves out of the ‘go, go, go’ mode we found ourselves in at the start of lockdown. It can be difficult to decide what actually needs done immediately and where we can take a breath.

We all need to cut ourselves some slack sometimes and be mindful of each other. If we do that, I am sure we can all get through this together.

Thanks to Alan sharing his insights and experiences. If you’d like more information regarding depression and other mental health issues, check out our Understanding Depression publication. You can also find out the latest information for protecting your mental health during coronavirus via our information hub.