My name is Chris Parsons and I have been with Herbert Smith Freehills all of my career – now over 33 years! For the last 13 years I have been fortunate to chair the India practice of firm often spending two weeks a month in India.
For much of my career I suffered from high levels of stress and anxiety which I tried to conceal with coping techniques (often just working too hard to try and keep on top of my worries) and through self-medication with alcohol. On making partner, things spiralled out of control and I collapsed one day and was rushed to hospital. My body could no longer cope with the huge stress I was placing on it and the excessive levels of alcohol I was consuming. After endless tests I was told by the consultant “Great news Mr. Parsons there is nothing physically wrong with you!” But of course for me this was not good news as it only left a mental health issue. My anxiety and stress quickly turned to full-blown depression and I had a total mental breakdown. My alcohol drinking also increased and I ended up with two problems – depression and alcoholism.
For many people, time off work to get well (and to give up alcohol) would have been sufficient but I needed a more radical assessment of both my work and my life more generally. I wrote a paper for the firm indicating what I was good at and enjoyed (and which did not make me ill) and how this could add value to the work of the firm. This led to my current role as chairman of the firm’s India practice -and unquestionably the last 13 years have been the best and most fulfilling of my career.
The firm was extraordinarily supportive throughout and has developed a wonderful approach to try and normalise mental health issues so that increasingly they are seen in the same light as physical health issues.
A key part of my role within the firm now is to give talks and presentations on the importance of looking after your mental wellness and what to do if you find yourself struggling – I do this both within the firm and with clients and other contacts. It has been great to see associates willing to talk publicly about their mental health issues and for this to have no negative impact on their careers.
If you would like to speak to me in confidence about any of this please mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.