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March 27, 2013

National Mental Health Day Strives to Remove the Stigma from Anxiety, Other Mental Health Issues

On most days, a law student’s schedule is loaded with lectures, homework and hours of reading. But on Wednesday, March 27, many student bar associations and law school leaders will shake up rigorous study with events that encourage students to give their brains a break.

Nicholas Cantrell, national student director of the ABA Law Student Division Mental Health Initiative, finds that the ultra-competitive and results-oriented atmosphere of law school can contribute to poor mental health during a student’s legal education. “There is so much pressure to be at the top of the class and boost your résumé with extracurricular involvement that I think a lot of students forget to put time into their personal wellness,” Cantrell said.

While discussing the mental health status of students with several student bar associations at the ABA Annual Meeting in 2007, the Law Student Division determined a need for more resources and action. The division established the Mental Health Initiative for law schools and a National Mental Health Day on March 27 to aid in the effort.

“Legal education is only as strong as the students it teaches,” said Adena Leibman, chair of the Law Student Division. “Where we can identify concerns and problems that may be inhibiting a student from reaching his or her greatest potential, there is an obligation to help the student rise to the challenge and overcome these hurdles.”

Organizers hope to erase the stigma associated with admitting to having mental health issues such as stress, substance abuse and anxiety by asking law school deans to provide more readily available resources on the topics.

“Sometimes students just need a supportive forum where they feel safe sharing their concerns,” Leibman added. She says law schools can demonstrate support through activities, such as hosting therapy dogs during finals week or organizing alcohol-free, fun networking events like a dodgeball tournament.

Cantrell added that another popular activity to boost awareness is lunchtime symposiums that include not only free food for cash-strapped students, but also free guidance from guest speakers who have experienced mental health challenges. “If people know that help is there and see people who are open about giving and receiving help, they are more likely to seek that help out themselves,” Cantrell said.

By encouraging law schools to sponsor events that emphasize the importance of mental health during a legal education, the Mental Health Initiative seeks to make mental health and wellness a part of every law student’s life.

“That an organization as large and pervasive as the ABA is recognizing these issues and working to raise awareness should hopefully serve as a bell tolling the change in times when mental health issues no longer need to remain closeted,” Leibman said.

For more information on the ABA Law Student Division National Mental Health Day and resources for law students on health and wellness, click here.

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