New OBA award recognizing legal-sector mental health initiatives named after Orlando Da Silva

Annual award will go to initiatives improving mental health in the profession

New OBA award recognizing legal-sector mental health initiatives named after Orlando Da Silva
Orlando Da Silva

The Ontario Bar Association has inaugurated a new award to recognize initiatives improving mental health in the legal profession in honour of Orlando Da Silva, the former OBA president and trial lawyer who has long been an outspoken advocate on the issue.

“I'm grateful for the honour,” says Da Silva. He says the fact that it will be awarded year after year demonstrates the OBA’s recognition of the importance of keeping the issue at the forefront of the profession.

“I'm at a loss for words to express how I feel about it, actually, being named in my honour. I hope that it attracts many wonderful nominees and nominations.”

The Orlando Da Silva Award for Improvement of Mental Wellbeing in the Justice Sector will be presented annually. The OBA says it will form a vital plank of the organization’s commitment to address the need for resources and services for lawyers while promoting awareness of mental health. The award will recognize individuals and organizations who have created an initiative that improves mental health in the profession and demonstrates creativity, effectiveness, and a broad and enduring impact.

In 2014, Da Silva shared his experience with depression with Law Times and described how he avoided seeking help and talking about the disease for fear of the reputation impact on his career. He said he was concerned that lawyers who suffer from mental illness do not use the resources available and that fighting against the stigma would be his contribution as president of the OBA. That same year, he launched the Opening Remarks initiative at the OBA, which aimed to start the conversation about mental health in law.

Since then, Da Silva says there has been a “huge progression” in the conversation around mental health in the legal profession. The cause has been taken up by the OBA, the Canadian Bar Association, and the Law Society of Ontario, which just held its fourth mental health summit with more than 6,000 in attendance. “And it's not just in Ontario. I've seen that across Canada,” he says.

“The conversation is everywhere. We're starting to talk more than just about stigma but about the systemic and structural reasons embedded within the legal services industry that create mental health issues.”

He says the legal profession has gone from a time where people were reluctant to even approach a booth at a legal conference that offered materials on managing stress and depression to a place where it seems to be embraced everywhere.

“I can't take credit for that but I'm proud to have been part of the evolution in thinking.”

“I still hope that admitting that you have issues of anxiety or depression isn't interpreted as an admission of weakness. But rather, it should be recognized for the strength that it requires to disclose. But I know there's still so much work to do on that front.”

OBA mental health initiatives include “The Mindful Lawyer,” a continuing professional development resource, peer support networks, and the “Mental Health Resources Hub.”

“Orlando's dedication to mental health advocacy has been an inspiration to us all and a testament to all those creating safe spaces where individuals can thrive both professionally and personally,” said OBA President Kelly McDermott. “It's a recognition of our shared responsibility to foster a culture of empathy, understanding, and support within our profession.”

The OBA is currently looking for nominations for the first annual Orlando Da Silva Award for Improvement of Mental Well-being in the Justice Sector. The nominations close on Feb. 28, and the OBA will announce the winner at the annual awards ceremony in June.

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