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IAWJ Webinar Summary- "Addressing the Mental Health and Well-Being of Judges and Court Employees”

Mikiko Galpin
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On October 12, 2022, the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) hosted a webinar entitled “Mental Health in the Judiciary” to commemorate U.N. World Mental Health Day and raise awareness about the experiences of judges. The webinar consisted of four esteemed panelists: Judge Njeri Thuku (Deputy Registrar of the Kenyan Judiciary), Judge (ret) Geraldine Johns (Mental Health Tribunal of England and Wales), Judge Rosalyn Loja (Regional Trial Court of Manila, Philippines), and Justice Janet Leiper (Superior Court of Justice of Ontario). The panel was moderated by Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren (Broward County Mental Health Court).

 

Our diverse panel of judges recounted their personal experiences to raise awareness about the unique demands of judicial positions which can affect mental and physical wellness. The panelists also discussed the necessity of open, supportive work environments where employees have access to resources they can use to improve their mental health. Additionally, they discussed innovative solutions undertaken in their own communities to alleviate the stigma of seeking mental health support and to provide resources for mental health and physical wellness within the judiciary.

 

Judge Lerner-Wren opened by emphasizing that a more receptive work environment is vital to help judges deal with the diverse demands of their positions and discussed how awareness can promote mental and physical wellbeing that allows judges to perform at their best.

 

The panelists highlighted that concerns of physical safety, the culture of the judiciary, and exposure to difficult testimonies are all unique challenges that judges face when addressing mental health issues. Justice Leiper provided an excellent discussion on how the judicial culture and demand of the system can place added pressure on judges. Additionally, Judge Johns noted that the harrowing testimonies judges hear can greatly affect their mental health, including triggering their own traumatic memories. Judge Johns, who retired in 2021, said that retirement has given her time to reflect on her experiences. However, she added that judges in office may not process the trauma caused by hearing such detailed testimonies or encountering situations where their safety may be threatened. 

 

Innovative systems and supportive resources are essential for helping judicial officers perform to the best of their ability. The wellness of members of the judiciary directly connects to the IAWJ’s mission to advance gender equality, human rights, and inclusive justice systems. As highlighted by the speakers, supportive work environments that prioritize the mental and physical wellbeing of judicial employees are crucial to increase inclusion within the justice sector.

 

Justice Leiper advocated for creating a culture which encourages learning and establishing personal boundaries so judges can balance work and personal life, allowing them to be more present and effective when at work. Judge Thuku discussed the importance of checking in with yourself and taking mental health issues seriously. In discussing the resources provided to Filipino judges, Judge Loja explained a variety of paid leave options that are available to judges. She also discussed a “wellness leave” that judges, officials, and personnel of the lower courts are provided to give attention to their mental health and ensure proper treatment and recovery.

 

The IAWJ strives to create a conversation around mental health and wellness in the judiciary. As discussions of mental health are still stigmatized, not just in the judiciary but in workplaces generally, it is imperative to shed light on this important topic. The speakers highlighted that the importance of mental health has been expressed more openly in workplaces, and the amount of supportive resources available to members of the judiciary has grown. However, work is still needed in this area. 

 

As an organization with diverse membership representing judicial systems all over the world, the IAWJ is uniquely positioned to advocate for and collect the stories of members as we continue the conversation around mental health and wellness. The IAWJ is committed to moving forward, to raising awareness, and engaging members of the judiciary on all levels. We look forward to connecting with our members and hope to include this type of programmatic work in future endeavors.


A recording of the webinar is available here.