Vol 12, Issue 2
July used to be fun. Back home, July was summer vacation by the lake and long summer nights. Now, July in the Southern Hemisphere feels like February did in the North. Cold, wet, short days, long nights of wondering, ‘Am I always going to feel this way?’ At MLS, July has meant spending the winter comparing myself to others and coming up short—struggling to find the energy to sit through another lecture because I just can’t care.
But I’ve been through a few February/July seasons now and I know things aren’t going to stay as bad as they feel when it’s dark and cold. I know I get Winter Brain (‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’), and I know a lot of other people do too.
When I went to see the university mental health services last winter to try and sort my negative thoughts out, I nervously said that she probably doesn’t see many law students. I figured we were invincible. Everything around us seems perfectly ordered, from the polished glass windows to the fresh suits of young mooters. She laughed. Not in a malicious way, but because the opposite was true. According to this psychologist, MLS students make up a significant number of her clients.
It’s no secret that many legal professionals suffer from poor mental health. Apparently, our profession is one of the unhappiest. In my first year, I lost contact with my MLS mentor after he, admirably, took time off to look after his mental health. The American Psychological Association claims that lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers, and that they rank 4th in suicides by profession. That’s huge, and devastating.
I’m writing about this because Eilene Zimmerman’s tragic and beautifully expressed New York Times article, ‘The Lawyer, the Addict’ brought this topic back to the surface for me a few weeks ago. A brilliant, highly successful Californian patent attorney killed himself, not by choice, but over a career of increasing drug abuse and dangerous choices, which she felt was the result of a culture that refuses to talk about their issues with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse with each other.
It’s important we keep talking about this now rather than self-medicating or waiting for the pressure to build over years and years of practice. It’s crucial that we do positive things to learn how to look after ourselves now, and sometimes just admit to ourselves that things won’t work out the way we want it to, and that’s ok. You’ll likely fail or be rejected at some point, and even if you’re incredibly successful, data shows that you’ll likely have a different job within 2-3 years after graduating than the one you’ll take after leaving MLS. So don’t stress.
I’m really grateful to be at a school that values mental health and has so many initiatives with the LSS and campus services to make sure we take the time to think about if we’re ok. This is especially important to me now, as we’re entering a period of being judged by HR reps who, by necessity, reduce the complexity of our lives and struggles to a one-page CV. Clerkship season isn’t easy, but in case you’re struggling, remember it won’t always be winter, and things will get better. Look after yourselves.
Luke Thomas is a third-year JD student
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