Sometimes you’re suffering from more than just stress—learn to spot the signs
Written by: Nancy Rapp, JD/MAT
There’s no doubt that law school is stressful. With the many challenges of academics and job hunting, law students must be pay attention to the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The rigors of law school are undeniable. Law school has a constant feeling of competition: You’re competing with your peers for your class rank and spots on the prestigious extracurricular activities, and you’re competing with countless other law students for internships and job opportunities post-graduation.
Law school is also a completely different academic world than undergrad. Law students have to manage their nerves with the Socratic Method and public speaking, learn a completely different writing style and manage the pressure to do well on both your finals and the Bar Exam while trying to maintain relationships with partners, friends and family.
Fortunately, law schools and legal organizations are starting to take a closer look at mental health among law students. The American Bar Association (ABA) created National Mental Health Day for law students, and urges law schools to provide mental health resources for students suffering from anxiety and depression.
This article takes a closer look at law student mental health and offers some tips for getting the help and peace of mind you need.
As mental health awareness grows in the United States, more studies and surveys are being conducted to better evaluate who is suffering and how to alleviate the problem. A number of studies have been conducted regarding law school mental health over the past few years and here are some of the findings:
42% of law students felt as though they needed counseling for mental health issues, but only half of those students actually sought the care of a mental health professional
Nearly 25% of students exhibited behaviors of a drinking problem, but only 4% of those students sought treatment
As a result of the study, LawyerWellBeing.net encouraged law schools to teach curriculum regarding well-being topics, have more on-site counselors available to students, conduct more student surveys, discourage alcohol-related events and provide more of a confidential network for students afflicted with mental health or substance abuse issues.
National Mental Health Day Data from 2015
In 2015, the ABA virtually screened approximately 4,000 students at 84 law schools across the country to examine their mental health. The findings revealed:
76% of the screened students demonstrated symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder
71% of the students showed signs of depression
43% exhibited symptoms connected to bipolar disorder
23% demonstrated symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Accordingly, the ABA continues to expand the resources available to students, with particular emphasis on National Mental Health Day.
Harvard Law School’s Mental Health Initiative from 2017-2018
Harvard Law gained substantial publicity as student leaders pushed the administration to take a closer look at student mental health. A survey of 886 students revealed:
25% of respondents reported suffering from depression
24% of students suffered from anxiety
20% of students reported a heightened risk of suicide
66% of students said their mental health ailments started as a result of law school
Only 8% of students said they would feel comfortable discussing their mental health with a faculty member
Harvard’s student body heavily promoted the results of their study and offer a call to action among Harvard Law’s administration and the legal community nationwide.
In addition to urging Harvard to reveal the full report of the study and hire full-time therapists, the students draw attention to the questionable practice of the National Council of Bar Examiners (NCBE). The NCBE allows states to require a character and health assessment that could the possible reveal whether or not a student has had a mental health diagnosis. Though the US Justice Department restricted detailed mental health reports in 2013, some states are believed to consider mental health assessments prior to administering law licenses.
Symptoms of depression and anxiety
If you have any concerns about your mental health or you just don’t feel like yourself, we encourage you to speak to a counselor or other mental health professional. Many law students brush off their feelings and simply label their mental anguish as stress. Though stress is certainly likely, we encourage students to consider this list of possible depression symptoms from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Feeling sad or anxious often or all the time
Not wanting to do activities that used to be fun
Feeling irritable‚ easily frustrated‚ or restless
Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
Waking up too early or sleeping too much
Eating more or less than usual or having no appetite
Experiencing aches, pains, headaches, or stomach problems that don’t improve with treatment
Having trouble concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions
Feeling tired‚ even after sleeping well
Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
Thinking about suicide or hurting yourself
Even more than depression, stress can turn into a level of anxiety that requires medical attention. The National Institute of Health (NIH) offers the following list as symptoms of anxiety and panic disorders:
Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
Being easily fatigued
Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
Having muscle tension
Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep
Heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat, or an accelerated heart rate
Trembling or shaking
Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking
Feelings of impending doom
Feelings of being out of control
If you exhibit even one of the above symptoms on a regular basis, than a visit to a mental health professional or your primary care physician is highly recommended. Though some mental health issues may last a lifetime, a bit of counseling and possible medication can help law students regain their footing and face the academic challenges of law school with a bit more clarity.
If you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, know that your loved ones want to help. We encourage you to speak to the people you love and trust, and know that your law school and primary care doctor are excellent resources for you. If, however, you want to research and try to help yourself first, here are some resources geared towards law school mental health: