I have just launched a national initiative to confront law student depression in schools across the country. This video clip is an introduction to the program I would like to bring to all law schools.
I wonder how much discussion – if at all – there will be for new law students about the mental health risk they will face both as law students and when they enter the legal profession as practicing lawyers. I have serious doubts that law schools will tell their law students about their high risk of developing clinical anxiety and depression. Plenty of concern has been expressed by law schools about student “well-being” because law students are, admittedly, “stressed out.” Yet, this approach just paints a thin veneer over the very serious mental health problems afoot in today’s law schools.
Studies have found that from 20% to 40% of today’s 150,000 law students across America struggle with depression. Not every day sadness, but true clinical depression warranting psychological and/or psychiatric intervention. When these studies are translated into real numbers, approximately 30,000 to 60,000 of law students suffer from depression.
Perhaps such high levels of depression can be explained away as first year jitters the shift from college to the warp drive of law school. But the studies suggest otherwise. Before they entered law school, students were found to have depression rates consistent with the general population, or about 10%. Those numbers soared to 30% by the spring of their first year of law school. But it didn’t end there. Depression rates continued to rise throughout law school reaching their zenith in the spring of their third year of law school where 44% met the criteria for clinically significant levels of psychological distress.
The picture doesn’t get much better when law students enter the legal profession. The same study showed that law students two years after graduating have depression levels of about 17% – or about twice the national average. In a large study of 104 occupations by John Hopkins tried to determine which professions had the highest levels of depression. Lawyers topped the list and were found to suffer from depression at a rate 3.6 times higher than other professionals.
Law schools know that anxiety and depression are huge problems for law students. There have been some efforts by some schools to address the issue. During orientation, there are presentations by someone from the University Counseling Center about stress, anxiety and depression and a handout about how to stay mentally healthy during school. Some schools also have fellow law students serve as “peer advisors” or have information on their websites about getting help (referrals to university counselors, links to mental health resources in the local community) and maintaining well-being (e.g. going to the university gym)
These efforts, while laudable, are in my opinion insufficient to combat the current state of depression in the 200 law schools across this country.
That’s why I am offering up a program that I would like to bring to law schools. I believe it’s important to address this problem with law students that are just beginning their legal careers. I can offer my experiences and as an accomplished attorney who has dealt with depression for the past ten years. I think that brings something unique and credible to the table. Read my bio for more information about me.
If you would like me to come to your law school, I would be happy to send you a comprehensive brochure which outlines my program. You can contact me at 716-852-1888 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Todd David Peterson & Elizabeth Waters Peterson, Stemming the Tide of Law Student Depression: What Law Schools Need to Learn from the Science of Positive Psychology, 9 YALE J. HEALTH POL’Y & ETHICS, (Summer, 2009); Matthew M. Dammeyer & Narina Nunez, Anxiety and Depression Among Law Students: Current Knowledge and Future Directions, 23 LAW & HUMAN BEHAVIOR 55 (1999); G. Andrew H. Benjamin et al., The Role of Legal Education in Producing Psychological Distress Among Law Students and Lawyers, AM. BAR FOUND. RES. J.(1986); G. Andrew Benjamin, et al., The Prevalence of Depression, Alcohol Abuse, and Cocaine Abuse Among United States Lawyers, 13Bridget A. Maloney, Distress Among the Legal Profession: What Law Schools Can Do About It, 15 NOTRE DAME J. L. ETHICS & PUBLIC POLICY (2001); Patrick J. Schiltz, On Being a Happy, Healthy, and Ethical Member of an Unhealthy, and Unethical Profession, 52 VAND. L. REV. 871 (1999);Susan Daicoff, Lawyer Be Thyself: An Empirical Investigation of the Relationship Between the Ethic of Care, the Feeling Decision-making Preference and Lawyer Wellbeing, 16 VIRGINIA J. & SOC. POL’Y L. pp 93 (2008-2009); Lawrence S. Kreiger, Institutional Denial About the Dark Side of Law School, and Fresh Empirical Guidance for Constructively Breaking Silence, 52 J. LEGAL. EDUCATION 112 (2002); Kennon M. Sheldon & Lawrence S. Kreiger, Does Legal Education Have Undermining Effects on Law Students? Evaluating Changes in Motivation, Values, and Well-Being, 22 BEHAVIORIAL SCI. & L. 261 (2004); William W. Eaton , James C. Anthony, Wallace Mandel & Roberta Garrison, Occupational Illnessand the Prevalence of Major Depressive Disorder, 32(11) J. OCCUPATIONAL MED., 1079, 1083 (1990); Connie J.A. Beck, Bruce D. Sales, & G. Andrew H. Benjamin, Lawyer Distress: Alcohol Related Concerns Among a Sample of Practicing Lawyers, 10 J.L. & HEALTH 1, 5-6 (1995-1996).