Ending the Silence on Mental Health Issues
Praveen Alwis (3L)
Lawyers consistently rank near the top of lists measuring depression, anxiety, and stress amongst occupations, as well as demonstrating disproportionally high rates of substance abuse. And yet, based on how silent we’ve been on the subject, you would think the legal profession’s problems with mental health issues barely concern law students at all.
Although many of us have conversations about stress and anxiety when faced with final exams or competition for jobs, these discussions are often held with an implicit understanding that they are just situational problems which we’ll overcome alone, relying on nothing but our own inner reserves of strength and fortitude. This is just how law school is, after all, and when we finish complaining, we’ll just roll up our sleeves, get to work, and go for beers afterward.
Shannon Gullberg knows as well as anybody that, when it comes to law students, appearances can be deceiving. “I think it would shock people to know that out of the 525 students who are here, last year 103 students came to see me with personal and/or academic problems. Of those 103, about half would have issues with respect to mental health concerns, depression, exam anxiety, and stress. All of those things are significant mental health issues.”
When faced with the numbers, our silence looks less like an indication that we have no problem, and more like part of the problem itself. It’s no secret that the profession that we’re about to enter is a highly image-conscious one. Picking the right shirt to wear to an interview can feel as important as thinking of the right thing to say, and we become hyper-aware of how we might be perceived by others. As a result, many of us begin projecting idealized versions of ourselves while comparing ourselves to idealized versions of others. As long as everyone else appears capable of effortlessly dealing with the stress and anxiety of law school, we maintain appearances ourselves and our collective silence continues.
The truth, however, is that mental health issues are a pressing and a relevant concern for many of our students. Real mental wellbeing doesn’t come from silence, but rather from developing positive habits, developing management and coping skills, and having open and honest dialogues about mental health issues. The LSA Mental Health and Wellness Committee will be holding events throughout the year in pursuit of these goals. Likewise, Shannon Gullberg continues to provide her services to any student who feels like they need an open and honest discussion in the meantime.