Law Student Mental Health

By Lyria Bennett Moses

The Conversation recently published a short article on the issue of mental health for law students. The article suggests that part of the problem is that “[s]tudents are often taught from day one to separate law from justice, and to approach each problem with dispassionate analytic skills.”

While that may be a stereotypical vision of legal education, at least at UNSW Law there is a strong emphasis on integrating discussions about law with discussions about justice (while acknowledging that legal outcomes may not always be just). Despite that, mental health is still an important concern.

In my experience, a lot of depression comes not from how law is taught, but due to the fact that undergraduate students choose to study law relatively early in their lives, often because they received a good ATAR (Year 12 exam entrance rank) and sometimes under pressure from parents. At an undergraduate level, a combined law degree takes at least 5 years to complete – which is a long time to study something one no longer enjoys. But this is purely anecdotal, based on conversations with particular students experiencing depression.

Does anyone have any thoughts?

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One thought on “Law Student Mental Health

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  1. I think (and the research I’ve done confirms this) that many law students do not have much personal autonomy. They may do law because someone else wants them to, but more importantly they tend to assess themselves according to external measures – someone else’s view of them, a mark etc. So rather than seeing the mark they get as an estimate of how much they know they may actually see it as an estimate of themselves as a person. this really makes you a sitting duck for depression in law school, because you all simply can’t be top dog anymore. That’s the reason in introducing Law and Justice I have been pushing mindfulness and mindful meditation – not just for relaxation (although it is good for that) but because it strengthens a person’s ability to evaluate themselves and not to allow other people’s evaluation to demoralise them. That’s what meta-cognition is for, as well as for evaluating things in the world, law etc.

    Actually I’d really like to see us think about this in relation to academics as well. I think many of us suffer from exactly the same thing and have to learn that getting a ‘good grade’ is not so important in the scheme of things. It might be that one of the reasons we are so stressed by the job requirements is that many of us like to please others and when they want more of us we try to comply instead of saying ‘No’ and wear ourselves out trying to comply.

    There’s some very interesting literature on liberalism and its likely causal relationship with depression. The focus on the individual can tend to atomise and damage the connections that are so protective of mental well-being.

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