What do you call it when you put one hundred Type-A personalities who are used to excelling at everything into a high-pressure, high-stakes environment for 10-12 hours every day for a few months and then tell them it’s impossible for everyone of them to “succeed”? Well, my friends, you call that law school. But, you know what else you call it? Prime incubation territory for widespread and rampant anxiety, self-doubt, mental health problems and depression. If you think law school depression and mental health issues aren’t that common, think again!
Earlier this year, for example, there was quite the buzz about a Yale Daily News article which indicated that upwards of 30% of law students struggle with mental health issues and depression. That’s a lot! It’s no wonder the State Bar mails attorneys a flyer for mental health and substance abuse when they send you your Bar card every year! (This is true, you’ll see).
I know the school year hasn’t even started yet, and, at least if you’re an incoming 1L, you’re probably feeling pretty excited and positive about going to law school. If and when the rosy glasses come off, though (and they might), or if you start feeling blue or anxious, you should know in advance that you have options.
Contact Your On-Campus Mental Health Offices
Most law schools offer psychological counseling or other mental health programs for students who feel depressed, overwhelmed, anxious, or just plain out of sorts. More often than not, these services are already included in your tuition, so you don’t need to pay for anything out of pocket or with insurance.
Find a Trusted Advisor
If your law school has an academic support program or academic success educators, you might feel more comfortable reaching out to them than one of your professors or another student. These people are in the business of helping law students who are having a rough time with grades or the bar exam get back on their feet. They might be able to help you too, or at least point you in the direction of someone who can.
Have a Buddy
A buddy doesn’t have to be someone in your class, it could be your sibling or best friend or parent. Make sure there is someone in your life who will know if you stop going to class, answering your phone or leaving your room. As I noted above, law school and depression can go hand in hand, and for a lot of people, this manifests as not wanting to get out of bed in the morning—or for days at a time. If you start feeling like you’re giving up, or just stop caring altogether, make sure you have someone you can reach out to who has your best interests at heart.
Consider Your Environment
I’m not saying that serious mental health issues can be magically solved with fresh air and sunshine, but if you start feeling bogged down in law school, keeping yourself cooped up at your desk without taking any breaks could definitely be part of the problem. It is amazing what taking a walk, exercising, or just getting some time outside, good healthy food and enough water can do for your brain, your body, and your general sense of well-being. Law school has a way of stripping people of the activities they used to enjoy—it never feels like there is enough time, and things like exercise and preparing meals can often go by the wayside. You don’t need to hit the gym or prepare anything gourmet, but see if making some small changes helps make you feel better.
Give Yourself Time to Relax
Law school may be one of the least relaxing places in the world. For this reason, it can be a great idea to counter-balance all the stress and competition with relaxing activities like yoga, swimming, or tai chi, and restorative self-care like massages or acupuncture. Again, these won’t necessarily cure any mental health issues, but they can go a long way toward making you feel less exhausted and ragged.
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And if you’re starting law school, check out our course for incoming 1Ls: Start Law School Right. You’ll get the feedback and support you need to succeed in law school, from day one!
Other helpful pre-1L posts:
- Pre-1L Summer Checklist
- The People You Will Meet in Law School
- All The Supplies You Need to Start Law School Right
- How to Start Law School Right
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