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Students Pledge to Improve Mental Health

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on December 14, 2017 5:56 AM

When it comes to stressful professions, lawyers and surgeons have a lot in common.

The big difference is that when a surgeon is operating on a patient, there isn't another doctor in the room disrupting the procedure. Law is a really competitive business, and it starts in law school.

That's why leading universities are committed to helping students deal with the emotional challenges of law school. It's an outreach to promote mental health.

Promoting Mental Health

Harvard, Yale, Columbia and 10 other law schools have signed a pledge to improve mental health among law students. Harvard's Student Mental Health Association circulated a survey last month to gauge problems there.

"We wanted to have some baseline data for our community as well, and Harvard's quite different from a lot of schools because we're just so large," said Amanda Lee, vice president of the law school's student government. "Having that information is really important for advocating for better services."

Yale conduced a similar survey three years ago, which revealed that 70 percent of the 296 respondents struggled with mental health at some point during law school.

It's a reality that prompted the American Bar Association law student division to declare National Mental Health Day at law schools across the country. The association said law students are four times more likely to develop depression or other mental health issues by the time they graduate.

Hiding Mental Health Problems

According to reports, law students hide their depression and other problems because they don't want to jeopardize their careers. Jerome Organ, co-author of a study with 3,000 students, said more than 20 percent of them admitted binge drinking weekly.

Approximately 25 percent of the students disclosed they had been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, or another behavioral problem. Despite their troubles, most of the students said they avoided getting help.

"Why?" asked FindLaw's Jonathan Tung. "Because before becoming a lawyer, every law student must undergo the 'moral character and fitness' process by which the jurisdiction will pick, prod, and probe into every aspect of the applicant's life including criminal background and mental health issues."

That's the part of the problem facing the law schools' new mental health initiatives. But now they are talking about it, and that's an improvement.

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