What Law Students Need to Know About Mental Health

Oct 10, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Approximately 450 million people around the world currently suffer from mental or neurological disorders, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This is a particularly relevant concern for law students, according to the ABA Journal. Why? Because more than 25 percent of law students have had psychiatric and substance use disorders, and most don’t seek professional help. There’s no better time to raise awareness about this issue than today, AKA World Mental Health Day. Here’s a closer look at what all law students need to know about mental health.

Facts and Figures

A “Survey of Law Student Well-Being” revealed several eye-opening statistics including the following, as reported by the ABA Journal:

●     17 percent of law students screened positive for depression, and 18 percent said they’d been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives.

●     23 percent of law students screened positive for mild to moderate anxiety; 14 percent screened positive for severe anxiety; and 21 percent said they’d been diagnosed with anxiety at some point in their lives.

●     43 percent of law students reported binge drinking at least once in the previous two weeks, and 22 percent reported binge drinking two or more times over the same period of time.

●     14 percent and 2.5 percent of law students had used marijuana and cocaine, respectively, within the last 30 days.

The data echoes the findings of an earlier, collaborative study between the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. Said Patrick R. Krill, director of the foundation’s legal professionals program, “The reality is that careers in the law carry with them heightened risk of problematic and dangerous lifestyles, overall lack of wellness, addiction and other mental health concerns.”

A Silent Struggle

Perhaps even more alarmingly? Most keep these issues to themselves. The survey further reveals that while 42 percent of respondents said they thought they’d needed help for emotional or mental health problems over the past year, just half had received counseling. The data is even more concerning for substance users: Just four percent of law students who reported binge drinking and drug use sought professional help for their problems.

Study author Jerry Organ told the ABA Journal of the phenomenon, “Students who probably need to seek help are profoundly reluctant to because they don’t perceive seeking help as being beneficial to their bar admission.” Students are also discouraged by worries about the impact of seeking help on their job chances and/or academic status due to the social stigma.

Shining the Light

According to “Helping Students Get the Help the Need,” an analysis of the Survey of Law Student Well-being, law students’ reluctance to seek help for their mental health issues is complex and multi-factored. However, there is one underlying theme in play: A law school culture which fails to promote the importance of seeking help for these issues. In fact, law school culture may both directly and indirectly discourage the disclosure of this information.

Says the article, “Changing culture is difficult, particularly when the voices that shape the culture are quite diverse and diffuse—from lawyers advising prospective law students; to law professors, law school administrators, law students, and alumni; to boards of law examiners. Getting these diverse and diffuse voices to all get “on message” regarding the importance of engaging in help-seeking behavior will be daunting. Ensuring that those students most at risk actually “learn” that help-seeking behavior is preferable to hiding the problem will be a real challenge. But we need to do something, and we need to get started now. Boards of law examiners, state LAPs, and representatives from law schools need to get together to talk about how we can do better to make sure we are accomplishing the outcomes we desire for our students—that they understand the value of seeking help for alcohol/drug or mental health problems and that they get the help they need to be successful law students and as legal professionals.”

The good news? As more experts and advocates call for the need to address the issue of depression and suicide with law students, more resources are becoming available aimed at helping them, including on-campus mental health services as well as other mental health resources for law students. Talking to trusted friends can help, too, and in more ways than one: As people begin to share their stories and experiences, the less mental health will be viewed as a taboo topic and the more people will seek (and get) the help they need to enjoy healthier, happier lives.

 

 

 

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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