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Navigating your mental health in law school and in your legal career

Mental Health Support

Hey you! Yes, you reading this. We need to have a little chat.

Did you know that those who work in the legal profession have the 11th highest suicide rate, according to a 2016 study done by the Center for Disease Control? In fact, women in law experience the second highest suicide rate by profession.

Did you also know that lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression? Based on a study of 13,000 practicing lawyers, did you know that 21 to 36 percent of them are problem drinkers? Did you know that 28 percent suffer from depression? Did you know that 19 percent have some form of anxiety? Did you know that 23 percent struggle with stress?

No? Well, neither did I.

What you need to know is, it is extremely important to know these numbers. The girl who sits next to you in your Constitutional Law class, the guy who was your Moot Court partner, even the kid in your class who you never talk to; any one of them could be suffering and you wouldn’t even know it.

Hi, I’m Jessica. I suffer from symptoms of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Yet, you would never know from looking at me on the outside. I tell you, because no matter what you are going through, you are not alone in the struggle. But, I wanted to provide you with some ideas that I’ve utilized, as well as additional resources, that you may find beneficial to your mental health as you navigate law school and beyond.

Have a buddy, be a buddy!

Have someone you just talk to when things get tough. Just having someone who will listen about all the things that are going on in your life and provide encouragement when needed is a huge help. Check in with this someone regularly, let them know how you’re doing. Be honest with them.

In return, if you know someone who suffers from depression or anxiety, be there for them too! I, personally, have several friends – law students and practicing lawyers alike – who know they can reach out to me at any time if they just need an ear to listen to them, or if they have a really bad depression day. I keep them on emergency bypass in my phone so that, no matter what, they can reach me if they need me. Don’t forget to check in with them after a day/night where things got bad. Sometimes, just knowing that someone is there for them and cares is a huge weight off their shoulders.

Self-care is a MUST!!

Things get hectic. Some suggest that you should treat law school as a job. However, there are times where you may get behind, feel overwhelmed, think about quitting or all of those all at once. It’s okay! It’s going to happen. It’s times like those where you need to remember to take time for yourself. There are several ways you can do this.

Meditate. Clear your head. Breathe! Literally. Even if you don’t know where to start, just start. Use this animation to help. I swear by this animation. It has helped me several times to remember to breathe and to just focus on that breath by focusing on the animation. I’ve also been using the Headspace app to clear my thoughts at night. I went through a rough patch a few weeks ago where I didn’t want to do anything. Period. Using both helped me re-center and focus on the goals that I want to achieve – in both the short and long terms.

Start journaling. You don’t even have to know what to write about. Just start writing. I focus mainly on stream of consciousness writing which is where I put pen to paper and write everything that is on my mind. It’s pretty much a complete mind dump and allows me to have free up some space for everything else – almost like clearing out space from the photo album on your phone. You might even try writing like you’re writing letters to someone – a deceased relative, for example – that you would want to talk to about what’s on your mind.

Get some fresh air. Step away from the books! Cabin fever is a very real thing. Going to school, sitting in class, going to the library, going home. Repeat. Keep on this path, and you may come to a point where it’s very isolated and repetitive and you just want the monotony to stop. I know it’s hard to get away from the books. With the notion that you’re just getting further behind. But what you really want to do is avoid the burnout stage. Go for a walk at a trail near your school or home. Check out a museum. Do something completely unrelated to law and school.

Take a day off. No matter what you do, don’t be afraid to take a day off. If you need a day to rest and reset, take that day! Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Be careful not to let that one day run away with you and become more than just that one. Make a deal with yourself that if you take one whole days as a mental health day – where you sit in bed and curl up with Netflix – that you get back on the proverbial horse the following day.

Know your resources

I don’t know about you but having gone through four semesters of law school so far, I’ve been told about the bar exam, and the requirements for applying to the bar in my state. But, I haven’t been told a whole lot about what to do to keep my mental health in check.

Lawyer Assistance Programs. All state bars offer the Lawyer Assistance Program. Who better to help members of the legal profession, but other members of the legal profession. The program also doesn’t just focus their efforts on members of the Bar, but they offer services to law students too! In fact, the ABA has the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs. Any help sought though Lawyer Assistance Programs is completely confidential and this confidentiality is provided for through the rules of each state regarding confidentiality. If you – or even someone you know – need help, reach out to the Lawyer Assistance Program in your respective state.

Crisis Text Line. Sometimes it’s just better to know that someone is there for you. The Crisis Text Line offers trained volunteers who are there to help you, 24/7, sort through your difficult times. All you have to do is send a text to 741741. Your text can say anything and be of any length. Then, you’ll be connected to a Crisis Counselor who will provide you with support and get you through the moment until you both feel that you are at a safe place as compared to when you first texted in. The counselors are not professionals, but they are there to be a confidential ear when you don’t want anyone you’re close with to know what is going on. The counselors can even provide you with a referral for you to seek additional assistance that is in your immediate area.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Suicide is never an easy topic to talk about, but in this discussion it’s absolutely necessary. Remember those statistics from earlier in this article? Go ahead and look again. I DON’T want you to become a statistic. Wait. . . WE DON’T want you to become a statistic. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline doesn’t just allow you to help yourself, but it also allows you to help someone you know! The volunteers are available 24/7, by phone or chat via their website, and are there to be an ear for you to talk to and help you through the troubles. They, too, will provide you with resources in your community that are designed to help you through the dark times.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

This is always going to be the hardest step. It’s never easy admitting that there may be something amiss or that you have a problem. But if you don’t ask for help, the consequences could be drastic. You could be arrested, disbarred, or even end up in jail.

If you feel that you are experiencing things in life that could lead to some bigger problem, reach out! Start with the Health Services provide by your school. All schools offer counseling services for their students. Some offer counseling services for free or for a nominal fee and accept most insurances. If you don’t want to start with your school’s counseling services, contact your state’s Lawyer Assistance Program. Remember, they help law students too!

All I ask is that you reach out to someone! Anyone! Don’t become a statistic.

The journey to becoming a lawyer is tough. Being a lawyer is even tougher! We’re all in this together; we are a family all our own.

Jessica Gilgor Jessica Gilgor is a 3L at Creighton University School of Law. A native of Las Vegas, she graduated from the University of Nevada Reno, where she studied Professional Chemistry and minored in Physics. Jessica was a part-time sports journalist for the United States Bowling Congress during their Open Championships tournament under the tutelage of Matt Cannizzaro and Aaron Smith.