Jerome Doraisamy – The Wellness Doctrines – Podcast

Jerome Doraisamy speaks to the Co-op about his first book, The Wellness Doctrines, and the high levels of psychological distress, anxiety and depression for law students and lawyers.

Jerome Doraisamy is a lawyer from Sydney, New South Wales. He attended St Aloysius’ College and then the University of Technology, Sydney, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Social Inquiry). Over the course of his legal career he has worked in a range of fields, from commercial practice to academic research to a major federal government inquiry. The Wellness Doctrines is his first book. The Wellness Doctrines examines the prevalence, causes and effects of psychological distress, anxiety and depression for law students and young lawyers in Australia in a manner never before seen – thematic discussion inspired by personal stories, first-hand accounts and case studies of over 45 legal professionals and health experts. It is hoped that this book will serve as a “survival guide” of sorts for new law students, incoming and current legal graduates, and other young lawyers.

http://www.coop.com.au/the-wellness-doctrines/doraisamy-jerome/9781921134951


Announcer:
You’re listening to The Co-Op Book podcast.


Rob:
I’d like to welcome Jerome Doraisamy to the Co-Op chat. Hello Jerome.


Jerome:
Hi, Rob. Thanks for having me.


Rob:
Now Jerome has just written an amazing book actually. It’s called “The Wellness Doctrines.” What’s it about, Jerome?


Jerome:
It’s essentially a self-help guide for law students and young lawyers to help them proactively combat or manage the issues of psychological distress, anxiety, and depression which they may face throughout their educational and vocational experience with law, given that the rates of depression within law are so much higher than in most if not all other professions.


Rob:
Now that may surprise a lot of people the rates for lawyers being, you know, they’re portrayed as these powerful people changing the world. Why do you think it’s, you know, the legal profession has those high rates?


Jerome:
Well there’s a number of reasons. First and foremost the volume of work that’s required both as a law student and as a lawyer is quite tremendous, the number of hours you have to put in. There’s a tendency amongst lawyers to self-medicate with alcohol as a way to unwind as opposed to seeking an outlet in a more healthy fashion, and that’s been [inaudible 00:01:36] by research. Lawyers by nature are generally very perfectionistic, very competitive with each other, and also rather pessimistic, and the way that you’re taught to study and then practice law can also be seen as quite pessimistic. The work is quite negatively geared in the sense that you’re always looking for the flaws, the mistakes, looking for the worst case scenarios so that you can rectify that. You’re seeing that through a very pessimistic prism. Then when you consider your clients, no client ever comes to you as a lawyer because they’re happy. If you’re a criminal lawyer, it’s because they’re in trouble. If you’re a family lawyer, it’s because they’re going through a divorce or there might be domestic violence. If you’re a commercial lawyer, there might be a major contractual dispute between parties, so nobody’s ever coming to you with a positive issue to be solved. The cumulative effect of all of these different cultural and environmental factors is such that lawyers can and do suffer much higher rates of depression than other people.


Rob:
There are certain people that I suppose are predisposed to depression. Do you think it is a type of person or, I don’t know, a characteristic?


Jerome:
Yeah, like I said, people can be very, display perfectionist traits. Nothing they do will be good enough in their own eyes. My experience with law school was witnessing friends, colleagues, classmates compete with each other for better possible marks and assessments, and never being satisfied with their own. When it came to penultimate and final years of study, people would be competing for summer clerkship or graduate roles with law firms and other legal organizations, and again there’s this real sense of not ever feeling good enough no matter how much you do achieve comparative to the rest of society or even just compared to what would be considered reasonable standards for yourself. People never let up and be so driven to achieve what they perceive to be the best.

Rob:
Now what prompted you specifically to write this book?


Jerome:
Oh, I had my own issues with depression towards the end of my law degree and then in the time following that, and that was quite a sort of debilitating and crippling experience for me to go through. Then I suppose the primary catalyst for undertaking this particular project was going back to work at my old university doing some academic and research work whereby I got to liaise with all the young students, and I could see the same issues that I had suffered repeating themselves in these new students coming through the ranks, and it struck me as being sort of an endless cycle of sorts whereby law students would be in this environment and suffer these issues, and perhaps there wasn’t enough being done about it. I came up with the idea of the book as potentially the best way possible that I could make a meaningful tangible contribution to the issue.


Rob:
Do you think the legal profession has had a bit of an ambivalent attitude to things? You know, it’s the rites of passage that … you’ve got this image of these young lawyers, and I remember colleagues of mine, 16 hour days, that kind of crazy thing, and it was a given. It wasn’t like a choice.


Jerome:
I think there has been that attitude over the years. Certainly that’s the traditional approach to it, but thankfully that is changing and has started to change over the last 10 years or so. The Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, who will receive 10% of the proceeds from this book, they’ve sort of really kickstarted the campaign of raising awareness for the dangers of depression in law and how it can affect you not only personally, but also professionally for law firms. It’s really important that their staff areas healthy and happy as possible so as to reduce turnover at the very least. Given that the Jepson Foundation have kickstarted this awareness campaign, a number of others have gotten on board, which has been great, so things are slowly changing, but there’s still a very long way to go.


Rob:
I think one of the interesting things when you wrote this book, you said the breadths and levels of depression and anxiety in the legal profession, was that surprising to you?


Jerome:
No, because it’s something that I had seen in friends and colleagues and classmates, and obviously in myself. It’s something that you’re made aware of from the first day of law school. You’re told 1 in 3 law students suffer from depression, and the implication is that you could be that 1 in 3, so you know about it right from the get go. The problem is that not everybody is then given the tools to deal with those issues. You’re sort of made aware of the problems, and then some people feel as though, well they’re on their own. That’s what this book tries to achieve is to continue that conversation to equip people with the practical tools necessary to not only help themselves, but also those around them.

Rob:
What are some practical steps that people can take if they … firstly, what are some of the symptoms that you may not be aware of that you should sort of evaluate?


Jerome:
Well, you could even point to something as simple as feeling stressed at your desk, feeling a bit overwhelmed with the volume of work you might have right in front of you, or just needing to get a bit of head space to be able to continue on with the rest of your working day. I have a chapter on this very issue, what are some ways that I can unwind when I’m feeling stressed at my desk. The interviewees that I had put forward some really sensible common sense solutions to dealing with this issue, and the solutions that they put forward are things that work for them. They may not necessarily work for everybody, but the idea is to look at the solutions being proposed, and then go out and identify what might work best for you. Not everyone will appreciate going for a walk around the block or going for a cup of tea or walking into the office of the person next to you and venting to them. These are all really reasonable ideas, but it’s important that you figure out what is going to be most helpful for you personally right then and there when you’re feeling stressed at your desk.


Rob:
What can you do, if you’re a friend or a family member, and you may, I think, someone’s going through tough times, what are some suggestions for them?


Jerome:
I think being kind to that person is the most important thing right from the get go, ensuring that they know that if they were to open up to you that it would be a safe place for them to do so, that there wouldn’t be any repercussions or detrimental effects as a result. Even if you don’t fully understand or appreciate what that person is going through, even just being there to listen can be the most cathartic thing for somebody who’s opening up about their health and well-being. Just being there in every sense of that phrase is so important. I think that a problem shared is a problem halved, so even just being able to have that release to a friend or family member or someone that you trust can make a huge amount of difference.


Rob:
What are some of the things that law firms could do sort of to minimize the potential for mental illness in the workplace?


Jerome:
The Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, which I referred to before, they recently released what they call the best practice guidelines, which is a set of suggested rules and regulations, if you like, ways in which legal workplaces or law school campuses can put in place initiatives or programs to ensure a more holistic and hospitable environment for law students and young lawyers, a whole raft of solutions that pertain to different issues that you might come across, and I think it’s very important that law firms and universities alike not only become signatories to these guidelines, but actually implement them, not simply pay lip service to the guidelines. I think that in most cases, law firms and universities are doing very well on that front. On a more individual level, it’s very important that law firms and universities keep going with whatever well-being programs or initiatives they might already have, lunchtime yoga classes or boot camps that they offer to their staff or their students. These little things are really important, not just so that people have an outlet, but at least so that they know that it’s there so they have that level of emotional security, the sense that their employer or their teachers are looking after them. Even just the idea of that can be quite important.

Rob:
What kind of manager, like if you’re sort of a partner or a senior solicitor in a firm, because there’s that pressure from the partners of the business to continue to bring in revenue and things like that and pump out the business, versus the management of your time, so what would you recommend to sort of senior executives?


Jerome:
Well, I would say to them that it’s important that you recognize if your staff are healthy and happy and on top of their game, they have a much better chance of being productive and successful employees that you would need them to be from a business or fiscal point of view. A lawyer who works at 100% the entire time, is working 15, 16 hour days, goes home for a couple of hours sleep and comes back into the office, is more likely to burn out sooner than later, and if that happens, then that person isn’t going to be any good to you either. It’s important that you allow your staff to take the rest time that they need, give them time to go and explore their hobbies and interests, whatever that might be, so that when they come into the office the next day, they’re recharged and refreshed and ready to go again. It’s really important for managers to lead the way in having this kind of culture where it is okay to prioritize your health and well-being, because at the end of the day, you’re a person first and a lawyer second.


Rob:
Who are some of your mentors in recent years that have helped you?


Jerome:
There were quite a few, because my initial breakdown came when I was at university. Some of the academics there were the first people that I would have spoken to, and when it comes to the academics from the faculty of law at UTS, the people I think of Professors Paul Redmond, Maxine Evers, and Jill McKeough, who have all been enormously helpful to me ever since 2011. Outside of the university, I would point to somebody like Graeme Cowan, who is also an author and he’s an internationally renowned speaker on mental health issues. He has been incredibly helpful to me on a more personal level as well. Then I would look to my friends and family who have offered unwavering and unconditional support through the best and worst of times, and having those people in my life, having the network that I do have has made such an incredible difference. I almost shudder to think what could be or what might have been had I not had those mentors and those close confidants.


Rob:
Jerome, thank you for your time. I think it’s … everyone says it’s a brave thing to put yourself out there, but more important, I think this is a very important publication that anyone, not only any students studying law and young lawyers, but anyone in any challenging profession will get something out of it. I think we can all acknowledge the hardships of doing a whole lot of things, but obviously there’s something about lawyers. Just for anyone that’s potentially going through anything, obviously purchasing the book from The Co-op site and The Co-op store is a great thing, but if you have immediate concerns, you can speak to someone on Lifeline on 131144 or Headspace, 1-800-650-890. Jerome, thank you for your time.


Jerome:
Thank you, Rob.
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