“Opening up is the first step to a solution”

Ilana Hamilton, a 2020 Piddington PLT graduate, on mental health in the profession for newcomers.

Ilana Hamilton completed Piddington PLT in 2020, while working as an Associate to the Hon Justice Kenneth Martin Supreme Court of Western Australia.

She will soon start working at the Welfare Rights and Advocacy Service, a community legal centre.

Prior to law, Ilana was a physiotherapist and lived in New Mexico for 12 years.

In spite of the increased awareness and focus on mental health it can still be challenging to find the room to be truly human (and vulnerable) in the legal profession.

I work in an incredibly supportive environment with kind, caring human beings who actively support each other when times are tough. I am engaged in interesting and rewarding work.

And yet, the demands of perfection, deadlines and devoted attention for extended periods accompanied by a never-ending list of tasks to complete often leaves me feeling inadequate, unworthy and repeatedly pushing my own needs into the background.

I like pressure, and I enjoy working under pressure — it helps me to prioritise my decisions and actions and can bring out my best work. But for my personal makeup that is ideally so on an intermittent basis and surrounded by downtime that fosters reflection and inner replenishment.

Being vulnerable is not easy, nor is asking for help and it doesn’t necessarily get easier with age — in fact it can get harder. It takes practice. I do not like to let people down and it doesn’t sit well with me that my errors can reflect poorly on others. I enjoy working in a team but do not want to be a weak link in the chain.

My own internal messages and self-talk are truly the barriers to change and the fuel to the reactionary fire. They offer a way out of the misery but also act as a barrier to self-healing and expansive growth.

Having the courage to face them is vitally important. Opening up is the first step to a solution.

The heartening thing about this, and the reflection and discussion around this topic is that I am not alone in this experience.