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Navigating Your Mental Health in Law School and in Your Legal Career

Jessica L Gilgor


  • Lawyers and law students are more prone to anxiety and depression than the general population. It is of utmost importance to take care of your mental and physical well-being as you navigate law school and your career.
Navigating Your Mental Health in Law School and in Your Legal Career
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Hey, you! Yes, you. We need to have a little chat.

Did you know that those who work in the legal profession have the eleventh-highest suicide rate, according to a 2016 study done by the Centers for Disease Control? Women in law experience the second-highest suicide rate by profession.

Did you also know that lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression? Based on a study of 13,000 practicing lawyers, did you know that 21 to 36 percent of them are problem drinkers? Did you know that 28 percent suffer from depression? Did you know that 19 percent have some form of anxiety? Did you know that 23 percent struggle with stress?

No? Well, neither did I.

Knowing these numbers is extremely important. The girl who sits next to you in your Constitutional Law class, the guy who was your moot court partner, and even the kid in your class who you never talk to could be suffering, and you wouldn’t even know it.

Hi, I’m Jessica. I suffer from symptoms of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Yet, you would never know from looking at me on the outside. I am telling you because no matter what you are going through, you are not alone in the struggle. But, I wanted to provide you with some ideas I’ve used and additional resources that may benefit your mental health as you navigate law school and beyond.

Have a Buddy, Be a Buddy

Have someone you talk to when things get tough. Just having someone who will listen to everything that is going on in your life and provide encouragement when needed is a huge help. Check in with this someone regularly, and let them know how you’re doing. Be honest with them.

In return, if you know someone who suffers from depression or anxiety, be there for them too! I have several friends—law students and practicing lawyers alike—who know they can contact me anytime if they need an ear to listen to or have a bad depression day. I keep them on the emergency bypass in my phone so that, no matter what, they can reach me if they need me. Don’t forget to check in with them after a day or night when things get bad. Sometimes, just knowing that someone is there for them and cares is a huge weight off their shoulders.

Self-Care Is a Must

Things get hectic. Some suggest that you should treat law school as a job. However, there are times when you may get behind, feel overwhelmed, think about quitting, or all of those all at once. It’s OK! It’s going to happen. In those times, you must remember to take time for yourself. There are several ways you can do this.


Clear your head. Breathe! Even if you don’t know where to start, start. I’ve been using the Headspace app to clear my thoughts at night. I went through a rough patch where I didn’t want to do anything. It helped me recenter and focus on the goals I want to achieve—in both the short and long term.

Start Journaling

You don’t even have to know what to write about. Just start writing. I focus mainly on stream-of-consciousness writing, where I put pen to paper and write everything on my mind. It’s a complete mind dump and allows me to free up some space for everything else—almost like clearing out space from the photo album on your phone. You might even try writing like you’re writing letters to someone—a deceased relative, for example—that you would want to talk to about what’s on your mind.

Get Some Fresh Air

Step away from the books. Cabin fever is a very real thing. You are going to school, sitting in class, going to the library, going home. Repeat. Keep on this path, and you may find it very isolated and repetitive, and you want the monotony to stop. I know it’s hard to get away from the books because you’re just getting further behind. But what you want to do is avoid the burnout stage. Go for a walk on a trail near your school or home. Check out a museum. Do something completely unrelated to law and school.

Take a Day Off

No matter what you do, don’t be afraid to take a day off. If you need a day to rest and reset, take that day! Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Be careful not to let that one day run away with you and become more than just that one. Make a deal with yourself that if you take one whole day as a mental health day—where you sit in bed and curl up with Netflix—you get back on the proverbial horse the following day.

Know Your Resources

I don’t know about you, but having gone through four semesters of law school so far, I’ve been told about the bar exam and the requirements for applying to the bar in my state. But I haven’t been told much about how to keep my mental health in check.

Lawyer Assistance Programs

All state bars offer the Lawyer Assistance Program. Who better to help members of the legal profession than other members of the legal profession? The program also doesn’t just focus its efforts on members of the bar, but they also offer services to law students! The ABA has the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs. Any help sought through Lawyer Assistance Programs is completely confidential, and this confidentiality is provided through the rules of each state regarding confidentiality. If you or someone you know need help, contact the Lawyer Assistance Program in your respective state.

Crisis Text Line

Sometimes it’s just better to know that someone is there for you. The Crisis Text Line offers trained volunteers who help you, 24-7, sort through difficult times. All you have to do is send a text to 741741. Your text can say anything and be of any length. Then, you’ll be connected to a crisis counselor who will support you and get you through the moment until you both feel that you are in a safe place compared to when you first texted in. Counselors are not professionals, but they are there to be a confidential ear when you don’t want anyone you’re close with to know what is happening. The counselors can even refer you to seek additional assistance in your immediate area.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Suicide is never an easy topic to discuss, but it’s necessary in this discussion. Remember those statistics from earlier in this article? Go ahead and look again. Don't become a statistic. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline doesn’t just allow you to help yourself, but it also allows you to help someone you know! The volunteers are available 24-7, by phone or chat via their website, and are there to be an ear for you to talk to and help you through the troubles. They, too, will provide you with community resources designed to help you through the dark times.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

This is always going to be the hardest step. It’s never easy admitting that something is amiss or you have a problem. But the consequences could be drastic if you don’t ask for help. You could be arrested, disbarred, or even end up in jail.

If you are experiencing things that could lead to some bigger problem, reach out! Start with the health services provided by your school. All schools offer counseling services for their students. Some offer counseling services for free or a nominal fee and accept most insurances. If you don’t want to start with your school’s counseling services, contact your state’s Lawyer Assistance Program. Remember, they help law students too.

All I ask is that you reach out to someone—anyone! Don’t become a statistic.

The journey to becoming a lawyer is tough. Being a lawyer is even tougher. We’re all in this together; we are a family all our own.