Racial Discrimination & Mental Health – 25.11.20 – A Review

Racial discrimination is unfortunately still prominent in our profession as well as in life. We previously explored this in our last event, Race to the Top 2 and we continued the conversation at this event, which was held in collaboration with the Solicitors Regulations Authority. We addressed how discrimination impacts our mental health and how we can try to overcome this.

Mental health, especially in black and Asian communities is still seen as a taboo subject. There are many reasons for this. Sat Sokhi, committee member of SAL, explored this in his blog, World Mental Health Day 2020 – a BAME perspective and our great speakers for this event, Umar Kankiya, Paula Rhone-Adrien and Anita Gohil-Thorp, echoed the sentiment. More importantly however, our speakers not only discussed their personal experiences of this, but they addressed what needs to be done to overcome racial discrimination to ultimately protect our own mental health.

Umar Kankiya, Solicitor and Communications Specialist and Founder/Director of Kanks Speaks Legal Ltd, highlighted the sense of constantly trying to impress but feeling that he was never good enough, a feeling which I am sure many of us can relate to. We question whether we are good enough, or whether it is racial discrimination which holds us back. As a practicing Mental Health Solicitor, Umar explained that having suffered from reactive depression himself, he did not even realise his own mental health struggles until the downward spiral took over. Umar’s own experience taught him that to overcome this, it is important to take a step back and recognise our internal battles and think how to manage this better. He explained that we need to overcome the taboos in our community and speak openly. We need to create environments where it is safe to talk and work together. We should not be afraid to speak up and seek help. Use family and friends, and do not suffer in silence.

Paula Rhone-Adrien, a family law barrister, echoed much of Umar’s experience and solutions. Paula shared her own experience at the Bar and explained that although the Bar is progressing in tackling racial discrimination, racism still exists within the profession. Paula explained that she has experienced situations (more than once and as early as this year) where a white male barrister had questioned her status as a barrister and once Paula confirmed, he then chose to ignore her. But even when situations like this happen, we tend to question ourselves and think “am I overreacting?” or “should I say anything?” Paula explained that although we do not necessarily want to cast shade on this great profession, we must do something to tackle this. We need to be heard but more importantly, we need to be listened to. Paula, having carried her own mental health struggles and battles for over 20 years, recognises the need for compulsory diversity training within the profession.

Anita Gohil-Thorp, Trainer, Mentor and Coach, explained that when we face these internal struggles, we must utilise wellbeing and mindfulness strategies to overcome these doubts. We need to talk and shape organisations that promote equality and in turn reduce our internal stress. Anita highlighted the importance of being responsive rather than reactive in handling our mental health. The body can react in many negative ways when we are overcome with stress but by taking time to better ourselves through regular wellbeing and mindfulness exercises and living in the present moment, we can make positive changes physically and mentally.

The message in this very important event seems to be consistent amongst our speakers- recognise your internal battles but do not suffer in silence. We need to create safe environments where we can talk about these issues free of judgment and in turn invoke much needed change in the profession.

Satvir Sokhi is an Associate Solicitor at Kingsley Napley Solicitors where he works in the clinical negligence and personal injury team. Sat also serves on the Committee of Society of Asian Lawyers.

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