A Review of Law Student Mental Health Concerns

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Written By KennethChing

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Law school is rigorous. There is a constant sense of competition in law school. You compete with your peers to earn your class rank or spots on the prestigious extracurricular activities. And you have to compete with many other law students for job opportunities and internships after graduation.

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Undergrad is a different world to law school. Law students must learn how to communicate clearly with others using the Socratic Method, public speaking and writing styles, and maintain good relationships with their friends, family, and partners.

This article examines the mental health of law students and provides some tips on how to get the help you need.

Study of law student mental health

More studies and surveys are being done to assess the mental health of Americans. Over the last few years, a number of studies were conducted on law school mental health. Here are some of these findings:

2016 Survey of Law Students Well-Being

LawyerWellBeing.net conducted a 2016 study and found the following:

42% of law students felt they needed counseling for their mental health, but only half of them actually sought out the help of a mental healthcare professional.

Nearly 25% of students had a drinking problem. However, only 4% of them sought treatment.

LawyerWellBeing.net was encouraged by the results of the study to encourage law schools to offer curriculum on well-being topics, provide more counselors on-site to students, conduct more surveys with students, discourage alcohol-related events, and provide a more confidential network for students suffering from mental health issues or substance abuse.

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Data for National Mental Health Day 2015

The ABA conducted a virtual screening of approximately 4,000 law students across 84 schools in the United States in 2015 to assess their mental health. These were the results:

  • 76% of students screened showed symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder
  • 71% of students displayed signs of depression
  • 43% of those surveyed had symptoms related to bipolar disorder.
  • 23% of those surveyed showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

The ABA continues to increase the number of resources available to students with a special emphasis on National Mental Health Day.

Harvard Law School’s Mental Health Initiative, 2017-2018

Harvard Law was a major media hit after student leaders pressured the administration to pay more attention to student mental health. An 886-student survey revealed:

  • 25% of respondents said they were depressed.
  • 24% of students experienced anxiety.
  • 20% of students said that they felt more at risk for suicide.
  • 66% of law students stated that they were first affected by mental illness as a result.
  • Only 8% said that they would be comfortable talking about their mental health with a faculty member.

Harvard Law’s student body strongly promoted the findings of their study. They offer a call for action by Harvard Law’s administration as well as the legal community in general.

The students also urged Harvard to release the complete report and to hire full-time psychotherapists. The NCBE allows states the right to request a character assessment and a health assessment. This could be used to determine if a student has been diagnosed with a mental illness. Although the US Justice Department has not allowed detailed mental health reports to be made in 2013, it is believed that some states will consider mental health assessments before granting law licenses.

Anxiety and depression symptoms

We encourage you to talk to a counselor if you are concerned about your mental health, or if you feel unwell. Many law students dismiss their feelings and label their mental anguish stress. Although stress is likely, we recommend that students consider the following list of symptoms for depression from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Feeling anxious or sad all the time or frequently

  • Reluctant to engage in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Feeling restless, irritable, or easily frustrated
  • Trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep
  • Over-sleeping or waking up too early
  • Eating more than normal or not eating enough

Feeling pain, aches, or stomach problems that won’t go away with treatment?

  • Having trouble concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions
  • Feeling tired, even after sleeping well
  • Feeling guilty, worthless or helpless
  • Suicide or self-harm is a possibility

Stress can lead to anxiety and depression that is more severe than depression. Here are some symptoms of panic disorder and anxiety that the National Institute of Health (NIH), offers:

  • Feeling uneasy, agitated, or on the edge
  • Feeling easily tired
  • Concentration problems; mind goes blank
  • Being irritable
  • Muscle tension

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It is difficult to control your worry feelings

Sleep problems such as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness or unsatisfying sleeping patterns

Heart palpitations, rapid heart beat, and a pounding heartbeat are all signs of heart disease.

  • Sweating
  • Trembling, shaking
  • Sensations such as smothering, shortness of breath, or choking
  • Feelings that there is imminent doom
  • Feelings of being out-of-control

A visit to your primary care doctor or a mental health professional is recommended if you experience any of the above symptoms regularly. Some mental health problems can last a lifetime. However, counseling and medication can help law students get back on track and be able to face the academic challenges of law school with more clarity.

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Students of law need to have access to mental health resources

Know that you are not alone if you suffer from anxiety or depression. Talk to those you care about and trust. Your primary care physician and law school are great resources. Here are some resources for law school mental health.