I hate the word “resilience”. I find it archaic and condescending.
By definition, resilience is the power or ability to recover from illness or other forms of adversity, and return to one’s original form. Even in defined form, resilience appears to imply the idea of being resilient is to attain normalcy, thereby implying mental illness is an abnormality to be rectified. This insults me, and I imagine it would similarly offend a number of other people who have suffered from depression and other such ailments.
Psychological distress, anxiety and depression are afflictions or states of being that significantly impact upon our emotional and psychological states and, by extension, our personal and professional lives. To categorise these states as issues to be addressed in a fashion that suggests a box-ticking approach serves to ignore the nuance and complexity that is the biggest health problem our nation will soon face.
As a mental health advocate in the legal profession, I see numerous problems with the idea of being resilient:
1. It refers to actions or an approach taken to counter whatever physical or environmental factors exist around one’s self, as a reactive strategy to such factors. It is far better, I feel, for individuals to take a proactive approach to managing health and wellbeing, as opposed to responding to a situation if and when it occurs.
2. It gives rise, in my opinion, to tolerating or putting up with an undesirable situation. “Resilience in law” is a phrase often thrown around in the legal profession, which aims to make lawyers aware of the high rates of institutional depression but does little to offer practical solutions and strategies to the issues that give rise to such workplace health problems.
3. It suggests that whatever circumstances exist to cause health problems are established and therefore it is incumbent upon an individual to look after themselves. This does not account for the efforts that must be undertaken by institutions to better look after the people within it, and may give rise to feelings that we are alone in the fight against depression.
I much prefer discussing these issues in a more uplifting way: fostering positive motivation to ensure optimal health and wellbeing…ensuring integration of personal and professional spheres to achieve desired equilibrium…and prioritising self.
By using such language, we are much better placed to identify what will work best for each individual, as they will have greater freedom to utilise their strengths, values and passions to get from A to B in managing their health and wellbeing. Every lawyer is unique and needs to be treated as such, rather than applying an attitude of broad tolerance and response.
Let’s frame the conversation this way rather than referencing resilience. Societal awareness and practical initiatives to address mental health issues have moved beyond such outdated terminology. Being resilient is no longer a viable strategy, and it should be struck from our vernacular in favour of more meaningful and motivating advocacy.