Law school is often exponentially more stressful than undergraduate studies. This stress, in turn, leads to increased risk of depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders among first-year law students. At the same time, law students feel pressure to put health and wellness low on their list of priorities; who has time to sleep, go to therapy, take a break to see friends and family, or exercise when exams are just ahead? And while today's law students have a far greater understanding of mental health than previous generations, law students still report that they're afraid to admit their own struggles even in confidential settings.
Law School Is the Right Time to Start Learning to Lead a Balanced Lifestyle
Mental health issues can quickly become significant problems that can continue into your professional career. That is why it is important to learn how to manage stress, fatigue, and other difficulties while still in law school. Up to 40% of law students report problems managing depression, for example, and many report abusing alcohol and anti-anxiety medication to handle stress. These habits can lead to further troubles down the road.
It is true that some mental health issues are transient. Depression and anxiety can get better gradually over time. However, even if your depression, anxiety or substance use is not “serious" you can benefit from treatment or activities that improve mental health. Preventative measures are often the best way to stay healthy. For anyone in doubt, FindLaw does have self-assessments you can download that may provide an idea of where your mental health is at.
Now is as good a time as any to get started leading a healthy, balanced lifestyle. As much as learning the law and how to practice, knowing how to stay healthy and happy is essential to being successful and avoiding burnout when you do start practicing.
Developing Good Mental Health Habits
There are many ways to improve mental health. These include reducing harmful behavior, such as alcohol and other drug use, and developing healthy habits such as regular exercise. You must be aware of, and working on, your physical, social, mental and spiritual life. Yoga, time with friends, or other healthy activities not related to law school are essential.
In addition to developing your own healthy habits and coping mechanisms, confidential help is available. Every state has a lawyer assistance group that is available to law students. This is a free, confidential resource that can give you the opportunity to speak to someone who understands your situation.
Overcoming Stigma and Lack of Resources
Your law school may have resources in place to help students with mental health. Unfortunately, many law schools still do not devote adequate attention to student mental health. In some law schools, students themselves have taken the lead and created student-run wellness groups. Yet, even if available, many students discover it is difficult to admit that they could use help.
It is important to know that you are not alone. Law school is stressful, but overwhelming anxiety and depression are not necessary to succeed in school or a legal career. Despite its reputation, law school is not an endurance test of how much misery you can stomach. Admitting that you need to devote some time to your health is not a sign of weakness.
Take Mental Health Seriously
Agreeing in theory that mental health is important and finding the time, comfort and energy to act in ways that improve mental health are two different things. Take the time to be aware of what you need, mentally and physically, and do what's necessary to manage the inevitable stress that comes with being a law student. It is possible to be healthy, happy and successful as a lawyer. You can start now.