​Monday 10 September 2018 is World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD).  It’s a time for all of us to reflect on the devastating loneliness, fear and misery that can lead someone to take their own life, and what we can do to help prevent it.

A good time, therefore, for us to publish the results of our Mental Health Awareness Week survey of the patent profession.

In the IP professions, stress and mental health problems are probably just as prevalent – if not more so – than in the wider community.  So in the run-up to Mental Health Awareness Week earlier this year, IP Inclusive and CIPA ran a joint survey of CIPA members to find out more about mental well-being specifically in the patent profession. The theme for the week was “Stress: are we coping?”   Our survey aimed to capture basic data on mental health problems – in particular stress levels – within the patent profession, their causes, their impact, the support available to help people cope with them, and the steps that might be taken to improve things.

You can download our full report below, together with SurveyMonkey reports containing the response data in graphical form.

We found significant reported levels of work-related stress, anxiety and depression, which often spill over into patent attorneys’ personal relationships.  The most cited cause of such problems was high workload, and associated issues such as deadlines and long working hours.  For student members, these concerns were inextricably linked with the qualifying exams, in particular the difficulty of juggling exam preparation and day-to-day work; the nature and difficulty of the exams and their alleged lack of suitability compared to other assessment methods; and the stress that arises from the profession’s reliance on exam success as the main, if not the sole, way of evaluating and rewarding achievement.

(Interestingly, the student version of the survey attracted a much higher response rate than the non-student version.  We hope this means that the next generation is more aware of mental health issues, more willing or able to talk about them and hopefully better equipped to tackle them.)

Workplace inclusivity is, sadly, not yet as good as it should be; there were significant reported levels of discrimination, harassment, bullying and other problems caused by colleagues’ behaviour, and evidence that some attorneys feel the need to hide aspects of themselves in order to fit in at work.

The survey also revealed a profession that is still often unable to talk about mental health: many who suffer from mental health problems don’t tell their employers or colleagues, and take relatively little time off work.  Heavy workloads and inadequate capacity planning seem to constrain people’s ability to seek treatment and recuperation time, even where “flexible” working arrangements are available.

Workplace mental health support (including training) appears to be variable, in many cases inadequate or ineffective and in others non-existent.  Also inadequate throughout the profession is the signposting of information and resources for those in need of help.

A snapshot of current moods showed many patent professionals to be uncomfortable or unhappy.  Plenty have considered changing jobs or even careers, and disturbing numbers confessed to thoughts of self-harm or suicide.  On the plus side, respondents admitted high levels of job satisfaction when their work is going well.

We’ve made a number of recommendations in our report for things which could be done by IP Inclusive, CIPA, individual employers and the profession as a whole in order to improve mental well-being in the patent sector.  These include measures to raise awareness of, and destigmatise, mental health problems; more and better training (including on so-called mental health “first aid”); and better signposting of information and support.  As a starting point, and based on our Mental Health Awareness Week events this May, we recently published a toolkit for tackling mental health in the workplace, which you can download from our resources page.

At IP Inclusive we recognise that mental health is key to an inclusive working environment.  We will work with CIPA – and with relevant charities such as LawCare and Jonathan’s Voice (to whom the report is dedicated) – to make things happen in response to this survey.  And we can also use what we’ve learned from the patent sector to improve mental well-being throughout the IP professions.

Thank you to everyone who took part in the survey, and to CIPA for supporting it.  We believe it has offered insight into a potentially widespread and increasing problem, and direction for those who hope to address it.

Our report on the survey is here, and the SurveyMonkey ones here for the main survey and here for the student version.

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