Mental Health Resources During Law School: Where Can Students Seek Help?
Few professions provide opportunities to deliver positive change quite like law. Unfortunately, this field also poses its fair share of challenges — including alarming mental health concerns. According to data compiled by the American Bar Association (ABA), 28 percent of working lawyers have depression and 19 percent have severe anxiety.
Mental health struggles begin early, long before attorneys have officially entered the profession. The onset often occurs in the early days of law school, when students are thrown into a competitive environment and forced to take on a crushing workload.
With their support systems often far away and new relationships difficult to cultivate, it should come as little surprise that today’s students are prone to depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. These issues have only grown more prevalent in light of COVID.
Alarming data from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement reveals that, during the past year, a shocking 85 percent of law school students have experienced depression severe enough to disrupt day-to-day functioning. Meanwhile, nearly half of students enrolled in law school average fewer than five hours of sleep per night, a recipe for mental health disaster.
Despite these numbers, many students assume that they’re alone. The report Suffering in Silence highlights a culture of secrecy, in which law school students feel too ashamed or too afraid to ask for help. We want to inspire change so that students feel capable of utilizing the many resources that are offered by law schools, legal associations, and other entities.
It’s high time we normalize mental health concerns and promote wellness initiatives in law school and beyond. Only then can we ensure that all students are equipped to handle the many challenges and opportunities that law school, and the legal profession in general, will send their way.
To do our part, we’ve highlighted several of the most accessible and inspiring resources of which students can take advantage as they seek greater emotional wellbeing in law school and as attorneys.
Audio resources can provide valuable insight to students who are constantly on the go. Why not listen while commuting or on the treadmill at the gym?
Some of the best mental health podcasts are specifically targeted at current or aspiring legal professionals, while others provide relevant information for all types of listeners. Our favorites include:
Path to Law Student Well-Being
In 2017, the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being made an urgent call to action with the report The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change. The podcast series The Path to Law Student Well-Being aims to take actionable steps to implement the report’s suggestions.
Consisting of seven episodes, this podcast touches on everything from the value of mindfulness practice to the need for a growth mindset. It also provides targeted suggestions for making bar exam prep less stressful.
Empathetic, yet research-oriented, this is a must-listen for students who want a new perspective on the interplay between law school and mental health.
ABA Law Student Podcast
Although it’s not primarily dedicated to mental health topics, the ABA Law Student Podcast still provides powerful insights into the role stress plays in students’ daily lives.
Individual podcasts such as Dealing With the Pressures of Law School or Examining Stress and Offering Hope to Law School Students are worth checking out, as they feature actionable strategies for handling the unique burdens of this competitive environment.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Toolkit
Developed by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) and the ABA Law Student Division, this digital resource is a must-have for every student entering law school, regardless of current mental health status.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Toolkit begins with a thorough examination of the root causes of mental health issues as they pertain to law school. Next, the guide mentions common risk factors, signs and symptoms, and misconceptions about mental health disorders. Also covered? Strategies for dealing with panic attacks, as well as general coping mechanisms and advice for maintaining your identity as law school takes over your life.
Separate sections outline the specific steps law schools, advisors, bar associations, and students can take to address the current culture of stress. All this makes the toolkit one of the most well-rounded mental health resources available today.
If the statistics outlined above are any indication, mental health is an overwhelmingly common concern among today’s law school cohorts. Yet, many students report feeling completely alone.
Support groups can bridge this gap by delivering the empathy and community that struggling students need. Many groups are organized at the individual school level, although some offer nationwide support.
Lawyers Assistance Programs
Lending confidential support to both legal professionals and current law students, Lawyer Assistance Programs are maintained at the state level. Check out the ABA’s directory of LAPs to find contact information for programs in your region. Many states maintain hotlines that you can contact right away.
Although it’s not exclusively dedicated to law school students, the prominent mental health organization Active Minds maintains chapters at many law schools across the nation.
Committed to “changing the conversation about mental health,” this resource emphasizes a peer-to-peer approach that is backed by a growing body of research.
Law School Mental Health Day
In recognition of current mental health challenges at law schools across the nation, the ABA has designated October 10th as Law School Mental Health Day. Coinciding with World Mental Health Day, this provides an excellent opportunity for law schools to highlight valuable resources for struggling students.
Pay attention to law school displays and social media messages on this important occasion — you just might stumble across options (such as support groups, counseling, or even yoga classes) that you previously may not have realized existed.
Committing to Mental Health Awareness and Acceptance
Mental health represents one of the worrisome and most under-addressed challenges among today’s law students. Thankfully, this culture of silence is finally beginning to change.
A wealth of resources are now available to students struggling under the extraordinary workload and emotional pressure of law school. Hopefully, these resources will prove less necessary as the narrative about wellbeing in law school begins to shift.
Until then, students can do their part by supporting fellow students and honoring their own need for mindfulness, relaxation, and emotional support. It’s time to stop accepting the law school status quo, and, instead, actively work to produce a healthier environment for both current and future students.