Our names are Brittany Dingman and Nicole Raebel. We are currently 2Ls at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Last year, we took over leadership for the student run mental health organization called The Pursuit of Happiness Club. This club was formed a few years ago, but is now really starting to grow.
Our club helps spread awareness, provide information, and open a dialogue to talk about mental, physical, and emotional health. Our club’s mission is to reduce stigma and provide resources and support to all law students. We also promote wellness, balance, and perspective.
This past fall, an idea of ours came to reality: Helping incoming students acclimate to the law school culture. Our club was granted the rare opportunity to organize a lunch program for all incoming 1Ls and LLM students during orientation week. With over 100 students participating, we discussed strategies in dealing with the stresses of law school (mental, emotional, and physical), figuring out school/life balance, and what resources are available for students. It was a great success and we were invited to organize another orientation lunch event this coming fall.
Throughout the year, our club creates and organizes events to engage the student body in discussions regarding mental health and wellness. Our club offers programs to help foster relationships, including events that don’t involve alcohol.
There are many law students who do not view mental health as a priority or are afraid to openly communicate about this topic.
One of our most popular events is the Barista Review. At our Barista Reviews, we invite others – students, professors, or even the law school deans – to lead informal discussion on a particular area or issue related to mental and emotional health, relationships, stress, etc. It is an open environment for students to talk to one another, and we have received strong positive feedback regarding this program.
Our club also organizes Mental Health Week every spring. We offer a week of fun wellness activities that have a focus of taking care of personal health and remind students of the many mental health resources that are available to them. These events range from therapy dogs to massages to a bouncy castle. We also partner with our law school’s yoga club to host a yoga session. Throughout the week, our board members table to connect with students and offer support and information.
Another one of our objectives is to foster stronger relationships with other legal mental health organizations. The Pursuit of Happiness Club has been working with outside organizations such as Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers and the Dave Nee Foundation to bring more resources and information to all students.
Our partnership with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers is evidenced by a position reserved on our club’s board for our law school’s LCL representatives. We also host the Dave Nee Foundation each fall for their presentation “Uncommon Counsel.” Working together with other organizations is the most effective way to help those in need and provide resources to students that will last throughout their legal careers.
We have found leading an organization to be both rewarding and challenging, particularly leading a mental health organization. There are many law students who do not view mental health as a priority or are afraid to openly communicate about this topic. We have been lucky to have staff and faculty members at University of St. Thomas School of Law who are also passionate about mental health, including our adviser, Judie Rush, and Professor Jerry Organ.
We feel even more strongly about the importance of law students’ mental health due to the findings of the newly released article by Professor Organ, David Jaffe, and Katherine Bender, as well as the national study conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs.
There is a widespread level of alcohol use, substance abuse, and mental health issues in the legal profession that needs to be addressed at the beginning of every lawyer’s legal career while still in law school. The Pursuit of Happiness Club strives to do just this by reducing the stigma of mental health conversations while providing resources to students, which will allow them to practice law to their fullest potential.