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For law students, it is no surprise that studying law is emotionally and mentally distressing. Yet a large majority of us don’t understand how we fare in relation to other professions and just how to deal with the distress.
As someone who has experienced an extreme amount of mental distress from law school, I hope to share in some research and insight with my fellow legal brethren.
Give me your diagnosis, Doc
The University of Sydney recently conducted research into this very topic, using the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, a number of participants answered a few dozen questions which related to the current state of their psychological distress.
The results were damming.
Female students under thirty were the most at risk, yet the percentage of students, solicitors and barristers who were experiencing high to very high psychological distress rated well above the general population (8.7% versus 3.1%). It seems that us law students aren’t faring well against our medical school counter-parts with 13.3% of law students suffering very high levels of psychological distress versus 5.5% of medical students.
Yeah, we’re stressed, but what can we do?
The first thing to be wary of is that psychological distress is not just an individual’s issue, it’s an issue of the legal profession as a whole. Support groups and networks including Law Associations and Societies are fundamental in providing effective solutions to issues which may cause psychological distress.
As it is an issue for us all (even for the 31% of us who have moderately low levels of psychological distress), it’s important to keep stress factors in mind.
As great tool for this is the Mind Tools App found free on iTunes. Among a multitude of tools aimed for the professional-at-heart, ‘Emotional Intelligence’ is just one of these great tools to build effective people skills with psychological distress in mind. With a focus on the professional environment, this tool provides guidance on developing self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. With these specific skills, it is possible to ease the stress of the daily law student grind, not just as an individual but as a collective as well.
The types of stresses indicated in the study were not typically ones that can be medicated with counselling and proscriptions. To provide a truly workable profession for all members it is necessary to understand that while law school is meant to be challenging, it is not meant to place such emotional and psychological burdens on us that we forget how to cope.
Above all, we can’t let the problem persist. Acknowledgement is the first step for solving a problem. It will not be enough to expect those who are suffering from high levels of psychological stress to combat their issues alone. The idea is that the profession should evolve to find solutions to the causes of these stresses, rather than letting them fester.
Whether you feel like you’re one of those suffering from high levels of distress or you know of someone who is, it’s important to be aware that it’s not just the sufferer’s problem. We are all in this together.
You can find the full results of the report at: http://sydney.edu.au/bmri/research/mental-health-clinical-translational-programs/lawreport.pdf
I apologise to anyone reading this. This will be a bit of a rant as I need to express my frustration right now:
I am currently writing a paper in response to the s43ZA Criminal Code (NT) custodial supervision order where those accused of offences who are found to be unfit for trial on the basis of mental capacity can be placed in prison for an indefinite period.
While the current “safeguards” are that the judge must consider the order to be last resort, it does not deter from the fact that those most in need are being placed in correctional facilities without trials. That’s it, their procedural and general human rights are being violated under the guise that it’s too expensive and onerous on the State to provide secure mental health facilities for those in need of the proper care.
For further reading (and frustration at the judicial hypocracy) feel free to read R v Doolan