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Seek your strength in seeking help – whatever the problem is

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The stigma surrounding mental health and substance-abuse issues has been long-standing in the legal profession, often beginning on the notoriously competitive American law school campuses. The fear of ostracization from others has made both current and future lawyers alike hide their own personal struggles and encourage others to do the same, convincing them that simply being human is a weakness.

Playing with one’s own well-being is a high-stakes gamble in a profession known for its stress level, which is why the American Bar Association has launched an innovative campaign targeting substance-use disorders and mental health issues among lawyers. Included in this campaign is a pledge, already signed by numerous law firms, supporting and encouraging a lawyer’s right to seek help and take charge of their own health. A campaign of this kind is especially promising, particularly given the increasing number of lawyers who have been willing to share their own substance-abuse and mental health struggles to empower others to do the same.

I am taking this pledge as well, on behalf of myself and thousands of law students across the country who feel they cannot or should not ask for help, as if doing so would make them “bad” future lawyers. The exact opposite is true. Whatever coping mechanisms we learn and practice as law students will remain with us as we practice law. Law school is the perfect time to learn how to treat our bodies and our minds in healthy ways so we can be helpful and active members of this esteemed profession. We have worked so hard to become law students and lawyers – we should dedicate just as much effort to become the best versions of ourselves.

I am no stranger herself to substance abuse and depression. For years, I felt I couldn’t escape the urge to be perfect and the immense disappointment I felt when I couldn’t attain such an unreachable goal, although I always succeeded at everything I did. I convinced myself that using drugs and alcohol was what any normal person my age does for recreation – until I could no longer function normally. It became hard to imagine a life where I would be successful, given the direction my life was headed, until I finally made the decision to make a change.

Seven years free from drug and alcohol abuse, I credit my sobriety and humility regarding my mental health struggles for my success in law school and in the legal community, where I hope to practice upon graduation.

I will never apologize to anyone for being human. I am proud of the fact that I have been to hell and back, and I am now preparing to take the bar exam. I am absolutely willing to risk being judged by those who have a negative view of those who struggle in this way in the hopes that I can inspire someone to ask for help and view themselves as worthy of all of the opportunities the legal profession has to offer, regardless of their past or present struggles.

Kathryn Stein Kathryn Stein is a third-year student at Widener University Delaware Law School in Wilmington, Delaware. Her academic involvements include serving as the ABA Law Student Division’s liaison of the Delaware Law Student Bar Association, vice president of Moot Court Honor Society, and student ambassador. Kathryn currently interns with the Delaware Department of Justice’s Criminal Division and Drug Overdose Fatality Review Commission. Kathryn has also worked as a legal consultant for the Center for Support of Families and as an intern for the Honorable Paul R. Wallace of Delaware Superior Court.