Junior lawyers

Life after bereavement

As part of our Mental Health Awareness Week blog series, Natalie Matthews talks about her coping mechanisms following a family bereavement.

I have always had an interest in mental health. I worked as an appropriate adult during my undergraduate degree. This allowed me to gain first-hand experience of mental health in one of the most pressurised situations of a person’s life, a police station. I then went on to write my dissertation on this topic. However, I never thought that I would experience mental health issues at first hand until I lost my 21-year-old brother, Garin, to suicide.

He took his own life in November 2014 and it was completely unexpected. At the time, I was completing my second year of the LPC part-time and working for Slater and Gordon Lawyers. After his death, my perspective on my legal career changed completely. I applied for a job in a defendant insurer firm and I had a baby. I thought that life was too short and I decided that I wouldn’t stress over the fact that I had not obtained a training contract. However, I applied for my training contract with JNP Legal on the off-chance and, thankfully, I was successful.

Now that I am actually training, I am so glad that I applied and it’s now only one more year until I can call myself a solicitor. My brother’s death has ultimately made me stronger and provided me with the ability to deal with even the most stressful situations. My journey to law should be a lesson for anyone that, despite life’s challenges, it is definitely possible to get your dream job in the end.

I think that it’s fairly impossible to completely avoid stress in this profession, but I do try and abide by some ground rules:

  1. Try to manage your own expectations like you would those of a client. I am a perfectionist, so I personally find this rule fairly difficult. However, I think it’s important to be realistic when planning the amount of work you’ll be able to do in any one working day. There are only so many hours in the day!
  2. Unless absolutely necessary, I do not think it is healthy to have your work emails on your personal phone. I did this in a previous job and I found myself checking my emails at 03:00. You do need some down time.
  3. Try to treat yourself when you do something really well, whether this be reading a book at the end of the day or having a piece of chocolate cake. You should always try and end your day by doing something which isn’t related to law.
  4. I often find myself thinking about a certain task too much and sometimes putting it off as I think it may be stressful. However, after completing the task, I frequently find that it was much easier than I expected.
  5. Ensure you have a good work-life balance, enjoy your weekends and use your annual leave properly. Work may not always be there, but your life will.
  6. Finally, talk to someone. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved.

Mental health problems are not something to be ashamed of and the more we talk openly about them, the better. After all, one in four of us will probably experience some form of mental health issue in our lifetime. It’s time to remove the stigma.

Natalie Matthews is a trainee solicitor at JNP Legal in Nelson, Wales. She is also secretary for the Junior Lawyers Division for Cardiff and South-East Wales. This blog has been written for Mental Health Awareness Week.

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS