Emma Henderson, Jess Skyes
Volume 1, Issue 1 (Originally published 27 February 2011)
A THIRD of JD students received special consideration last year due to mental illness and the law school suspect many more are suffering and not coming forward.
Student Wellbeing Coordinator Kate van Hooft said 37 per cent of special consideration applications were due to a variety of mental illnesses.
“I’m a little weary of looking at special consideration data as a litmus test on how the student population is coping. I don’t doubt that certain conditions are under- represented in the stats,” Ms. van Hooft said.
A study of Australian law students found 38 per cent of students would not come forward about a mental illness.
The University of Sydney Brain and Mind institute surveyed students from 13 law school nationally finding that students don’t come forward due to stigma and possible discrimination.
Ms. van Hooft agreed and said students feared a loss of confidentiality or stigmatisation.
“I also think some students may be reluctant to ask for special consideration, or any kind of assistance, because they feel like it’s a hand-up, or that it means they’re not coping.”
Ms. van Hooft also said students often feel shame or that they are not worthy of the consideration. She said there are many misconceptions around special consideration which she hopes can be corrected
“I think special consideration is misunderstood, as it’s not about hand-ups or advantaging one student over the other, but instead about trying to even-out the playing field so that no student is disadvantaged by their circumstances or health,” she said.
Ms. van Hooft said there are many reasons why law students are at high risk of developing a mental illness.
“Law changes the way you think. You become more logical and focused but you also lose experiential learning. This type of thinking can lead to students feeling cut off and cold which can lead to depression,” she said.
Ms. van Hooft also said the change from a BA to the JD is significant and law often attracts high achievers and perfectionists who find the decrease in marks “quite difficult”.
A study by Australian National University found legal education itself can be a factor in mental illness, often undermining students’ values, ethical behaviour and career/life satisfaction.
ANU law professor Dr. Katherine Hall found that students often enter law school with similar psychological profiles as the general community, but leave it with a greater tendency to experience anxiety, depression, and alcoholism.
Another study by the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Institute found mental illness is prevalent not only in law schools, but in the legal profession generally, with 40 per cent of law students, 31 per cent of solicitors and 19 per cent of barristers showing signs of psychological distress so severe as to need clinical attention.
Despite the prevalence of mental illness its stigma often delays students seeking help.
Ms. van Hooft said “it does tend to reach crisis point before they seek help.”
She hopes that the more students know about the services the university offer the more likely they will be to seek help.
"We try to do as much intervention as we can, and that if students do seek help before it reaches this point there is usually a lot more that we can do to assist," she said.
The MLS approach to special consideration takes account of these mental health issues and other factors which might disadvantage student in the special consideration policy.
Ms van Hooft said generally special consideration will provide a supplementary exam if circumstances outside of your control affect your ability to perform your best in an exam or attending the exam.
If circumstances outside of your control prevent you from submitting an assignment on time and extension is usually given.
Students experiencing academic disadvantage may be granted separate adjustments outside of special consideration such as additional reading or writing time in an exam or a scribe to assist with writing.
Ms van Hooft emphasised the importance of University deadlines so remember applications for special consideration on an exam must be made within three working days after the date of the exam and you then have five working days to supply documentation to the Faculty to support your application.
If you know that you'll need special consideration, or if you run into a circumstance that requires special consideration, make an appointment with the student Wellbeing Coordinator, Kate van Hooft, to discuss ways that the law school can help you through.
See the JD newspaper website for a simple guide to special consideration.
Emma Henderson, Jess Skyes