Conversation with Dr Frances Cheng, Specialist in Psychiatry, OT&P Healthcare MindworX


Law practice is rarely as glamour as it
is seen on television a lot of lawyers actually go through burnout, stress,
mental anxiety throughout their career. Mental health has been a growing
topic in the Hong Kong legal industry and we’re really fortunate today to invite
Dr. Frances Cheng, Specialist in Psychiatry and Head of Mental Health at
OT&P MindWorX to join us thank you so much for your time today. Mental illness is any condition that
affects the way we think our emotions our mood and our behavior and how it
impacts us in our daily functioning so whether it’s impacting us socially or at
work or in our interpersonal relationships. And how common is it
amongst lawyers in Hong Kong. So we don’t have figures we don’t have local Hong
Kong figures amongst the legal workforce however lots of studies have been
conducted in the US in Australia and in the UK and a recent study in the US found that amongst about 13,000 lawyers interviewed 25% to about 30% of them did
experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. Now Hong Kong is a metropolitan city with the large international legal firms
here so it’s expected that these figures are probably similar amongst the local
legal workforce as well amongst the local population in Hong Kong the
prevalence of anxiety disorders and depression is about 30% so we can
see that stress and anxiety are definitely higher in those working in
the legal profession here. Well, we all know that the legal profession is extremely demanding and demanding in so many different ways so the competition I
think between firms and sometimes even within firms is and can be
extremely fierce. The working hours are often very very long. Modern technology
has definitely contributed. With you know the the advent of email a lot of people
are CC on to so many emails that they’re just not able to get through all
of these in one day and also right now there was more and more of a trend to
use instant messaging so for example WhatsApp and WeChat amongst colleagues and also with clients as well so people in the legal profession really
are struggling to keep up with all of these messages that they have to or they
feel like they have to respond to instantly. This can lead to a huge amount
of stress and strain on their time they’re not necessarily able to
concentrate on the work that they’re trying to get through because they’re
having to deal with all of these instant demands. And, it can be quite stressful
when you’re always anticipating messages from clients or what’s messaging you.
Yeah absolutely I think that is one thing which people do feel very very
uncomfortable with the fact that they know that something might come through
any minute it could happen while they are on
weekends definitely outside of office hours even when they’re travelling
overseas on holidays they feel that pressure to constantly be responding
instantly The WHO, the World Health Organization,
stipulates that there is no health without mental health and indeed there
are so many ways that we can become effective when our mental health
deteriorates so for example physically a lot of people with anxiety and
depression will complain of insomnia either not being able to fall asleep or
having very fragmented sleep they will feel that during the day they just don’t
have the same energy levels as they did before they may not feel as interested
or as motivated in the work that they do or engage in with their colleagues or
even that family and friends they omit they may also feel that their attention
and concentration is for an indeed kind of reaction speed processing speed is
worse. It’s more difficult for them to be productive at work. All of these can be to an
increased feeling of anxiety and stress and you know just not that they’re able
to complete things when they expected that they would be able to. So
unsurprisingly personal life is often affected as well usually individuals are
eager to sacrifice their personal time for themselves or with their family
members. This can sometimes lead to feelings of
guilt or feelings of loneliness that they’re not perhaps spending enough time
with their children or their families or that they’re really disconnected from
their friends because it was so caught up at work. That must be really hard on
family members of people who have mental health issues as well. Yeah
very often family members really want to help really want to see their you know
their family get better but because they’re so caught up in work they have
very little time to spend with them anyway. Well, let’s start with the personal level what
I would recommend to everybody is that they definitely do prioritize and sleep. Lawyers are very good at not sleeping and actually most adults require 7
to 9 hours of sleep in order for their brains to function well the next
day now given that you know lawyers are
usually a very short of time it’s important to try and maximize your
productivity when you are at work by sleeping a sufficient number of hours
this ensures that you are at maximum productivity and that you’re really able
to pay attention and focus on the work that you are doing. Diet is also
important a lot of people will either not have breakfast or you know skip
lunch during the day it’s actually really important to ensure that your
brain has enough fuel to function properly and finally doing exercise so
it’s well known that exercise will improve the brain functioning and if
you’re able to get the exercise done early in the morning it means that
you’ve activated your brain such that your cognitive function your brain
functioning is better throughout the day. Recent studies have also shown us that
exercise is able to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression in individuals
who are suffering from these conditions and therefore if you’re able to get in
about 30 minutes of cardio a day that would be sufficient. Oh, great! Whats about
for organizations it’s been a big topic at law firms and multinationals yeah
what would you recommend organizations doing to help their
employees if they’re stressed out or anxious. I mean for a long time
organizations have been aware that the most valuable assets are their employees
and so recently there has been a lot has been done to try and improve the mental
wellness of their employees so lots of organizations are now starting to
do talks and forums at work where people are encouraged to come and understand
the symptoms of mental illness such that they’re able to seek help when they need
to do so having such open talks also gives employees the confidence that yes
their companies do realize that these are issues that are found within their
organizations and that these are things which are should be positively dealt
with and have the support of the company. And what about say friends in a social
environment if what would you suggest to you know your your lay person if they
can observe they’ve seen that their friends are a little bit entity. Yeah I
would say that if you notice that there is a difference in your friends if you
notice that they are perhaps a bit low in mood or a bit anxious or a bit irritable
or that they have been declining all your social invitations then it’s time
to let them know that you observe these changes in them and to really ask them
you know if there okay how they’ve been doing recently and
I think one of the really important things is that because anxiety and
depression are common mental illnesses you will find that there are people
around you who have suffered from these conditions and only by bringing it out
and talking about it always you know start finally starting to strip away you
know the guilt and the shame and the feelings of hopelessness that have kind
of stigmatized all the types of mental illness for a very long time.
Well thank you so much for sharing this with us Dr. Cheng it’s been very very
informative and it’s comforting to know that it’s comfortable to know that it is an uncommon topic in Hong Kong so all the lawyers watching this today don’t be afraid to reach out if
you do want to want to talk to someone about any stress or anxiety that you’re
going through remember your career is a marathon not a race
so do remember to take time to live healthily both physically and mentally
because you’re going to need the good health that to get to where you want to
be.

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