Years ago, in practice, I was involved in a series of cases involving allegations that a certain drug had caused infertility in women. I had to depose a number of plaintiffs who had been unable to bear children, and ask them intensely personal questions about their physical and sexual health in order to better ascertain the strength of their claims. I did my very best to handle the situation like a professional, but often the deponents would (understandably) become highly emotional during questioning. For me, an unmarried twenty-something just a few years out of law school, it was an awkward experience. Their reactions would stick with me when I went home at night.
From time to time I would ask my friends who worked as attorneys in the criminal justice system–who spent their days knee-deep in murders, sexual assaults, and various other horrible acts–how they could block those images away when they went home at night. It wasn’t easy at all, they admitted, but somehow they managed. One had to find a way to compartmentalize work and home, for one’s own mental health. And often those images and stories did haunt them at home, as much as in the workplace.
A lengthy story out of Australia keenly illustrates that judges are equally susceptible to these challenges. Six judges in Victoria talked to the Sydney Morning Herald about judicial mental health, including the judges’ environment, coping mechanisms, and (occasionally tragic) responses. As one judge put it:
“It’s been hidden, unspoken, unacknowledged and surrounded by taboo and shame for a long time,” she says. “There’s this sort of almost irreconcilable conflict between being an impartial decision-maker and being a human being who responds in a human way to what we’re doing.
“Because we’ve got to be tough [and] impartial, there’s been a concern about ‘Are you not intellectually rational enough to do the job, or are you too weak as a person if you’re responding on a personal level to other people’s trauma?’ So [there’s] the shame of saying, ‘I’m struggling, I’m finding this hard … I’m finding it hard to reconcile the human part of me with my impassive, impartial demeanour.'”
An important read for anyone involved in the administration of justice.