Calls from legal professionals about anxiety more than doubled in 2020, the chief executive of welfare charity LawCare has said.
Web traffic at LawCare grew by 50%, but the number of callers last year increased by only 9%.
Elizabeth Rimmer said it was natural, during “uncertain times”, for people to feel anxious, whether about being infected with the virus at work or losing their job if they refused to go to the office.
“The calls we’ve had from younger lawyers show that they are uncertain about their futures. Trainees and newly qualified lawyers have been furloughed and there is a lack of supervision and support for those working from home.
“The lack of social contact in the workplace can be a big issue for young people. They could be working from home from their bedrooms.”
A third of calls, emails and webchat to LawCare (34%) had a Covid element. The impact of the pandemic was felt most often in a worsening of existing mental health issues (13%), or not being allowed by employers to work from home (12%).
Ms Rimmer said there was insufficient data from LawCare’s 964 calls, webchats or emails to describe lawyers being forced to work in the office as a “significant issue”, though it was clearly an issue.
Other calls linked to Covid concerned problems in adapting to working from home due to “poor supervision, procedures, or provision of equipment” (11%) and feeling isolated (11%).
Callers reported being overloaded with work, typically because colleagues had been furloughed (9%).
Further practical problems linked to the virus involved childcare, relationship strain, redundancy or inability to find a job, financial problems and being asked to work while furloughed.
However, despite all the media coverage about mental health, particularly during the pandemic, Ms Rimmer said lawyers were still reluctant to make contact.
“Some people don’t know we exist, although we’ve been here for 25 years, and it’s always hard for legal professionals to admit that they’re struggling with something.
“There’s so much in the media about mental health, but in reality there is a lot of stigma, and stigma silences people.
“Often, by the time they call us, they’re heading for a crisis. The sooner you address a problem, the more likely it is that the outcome will be positive.”
Ms Rimmer said the immediate impact of the pandemic, and the first national lockdown, was a slump in calls as people adjusted to working from home.
This was followed by a steady rise in activity, particularly in the last quarter of the year.
The most commonly reported problems last year were stress (23%), anxiety (15%), bullying (10%), depression (10%) and worries about career development (10%).
A large majority (69%) of those contacting LawCare were women and exactly half were either trainees or pupils, or had been qualified for less than five years.
Ms Rimmer said there were fewer calls than expected about redundancy, but LawCare was prepared if they rose this year.
“It will be interesting to see how 2021 compares,” she said. “It’s been a busy start to the year and it looks as if we’re in for a similar year in terms of a rollercoaster of uncertainty.”