In a courageous leap of openness, Michael Ferguson, a respected local lawyer and member of our Board of Directors, has penned a profound chapter in a newly released book focused on mental health challenges within the law profession. His work, titled “Practising Openness Where Everyone Knows Everyone,” offers a personal and professional perspective on handling mental health issues openly in a small-town setting.

In his chapter, Michael shares his own struggles with depression and anxiety disorder, encountered while practising law in the closely-knit community of Goderich. He delves into the unique challenges faced by professionals in rural areas, where personal and professional lives often intersect and intertwine. The fear of gossip and professional backlash, Michael explains, can intensify the pressure on those dealing with mental health issues.

While his narrative focuses on lawyers, Michael’s experiences, and the advice he shares are universally applicable, particularly to small businesses and local professionals. In towns like ours, where everybody knows everybody, maintaining a business, and one’s professional reputation, while openly handling mental health challenges becomes a nuanced art. Michael’s chapter not only sheds light on these complexities but also offers hope and practical advice for managing them.

As a Chamber of Commerce, we are dedicated not only to the economic well-being of our community but also to the personal health and professional development of our members. Michael’s bravery in discussing his mental health not only challenges the stigma often associated with such issues but also encourages a dialogue on supporting mental wellness in the workplace. His insights are particularly relevant for managers and team leaders looking to foster supportive work environments.

Michael’s contribution to this important book is a beacon of hope and a testament to the strength found in vulnerability. It reminds us that, even in small communities, openness can lead to support rather than stigma. We are incredibly proud to have Michael Ferguson as part of our Chamber’s leadership, reflecting the values of courage, transparency, and mutual support that define us.

We encourage all our members to read Michael’s chapter and consider how we, as a community, can better support each other in all aspects of our lives. Let’s take inspiration from Michael’s story and strive to create a more understanding and supportive environment for everyone in our community.

The book can be purchased at LexisNexis with all proceeds donated to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Excerpt from Michael’s chapter:

Book cover“Many of your colleagues and clients are your friends, neighbors or acquaintances, and gossip travels quickly. If a relationship with a colleague or client goes south, the consequences can be personal as well as professional. They may speak poorly of you to their family, who tell their friends, who tell their neighbors, and so on.

In places where everybody knows everybody, so much depends on your relationship with a few individuals, be it the one or two senior lawyers at your firm, the few local real estate agents, or the members of the small local Bar who you must work with on a regular basis. In Goderich I work with a half-dozen of the same lawyers for almost all of my real estate transactions. It is very easy to gain a bad reputation if you have a bad interaction with one of these few key people.

I feared that if people did not understand mental illness and made assumptions about how it impacts my competence as a lawyer, then I may get fewer referrals or calls from prospective clients. Additionally, I feared that other lawyers may think they can take advantage of my presumed weakness. To what degree these risks are real or simply perceived, I do not know. But there is a very real fear that being open about your mental health issues, even with friends, could have wide reaching professional and personal consequences…

… It may be too early to feel the consequences. But so far I have felt none of the negative consequences that I feared. The phone still rings, and colleagues treat me no differently than before.”