STUDENT HEALTH: FROM ABA LAW STUDENT (CoLAP)

To provide a model for assisting lawyers, whose practices had been impaired by addictions, the ABA created the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) to provide support to attorneys fighting addictions as well as stress, depression, and other mental health problems. The Commission’s primary goal is to advance the legal community’s knowledge of impairments facing lawyers and to provide a response to those issues.

Your Role and Why It Matters

Individual students, when empowered with the appropriate knowledge and tools, have the greatest ability to prevent chemical abuse or a mental health condition from progressing to the point where it consumes their life while in law school. Fellow students may also be the most adept at noticing changes in their classmates. One of the key aspects to prevention is the ability to maintain “balance” in all areas of one’s life while pursuing a law degree. Learning how to cope with the stressors of law school in a healthy way, and ensuring that one’s identity is not tied to how well one does in law school, are essential to preventing common mental health disorders and impairments. Stress, anxiety, depression, and the like can quickly progress and consume a law student’s life before he or she realizes it, often as consequences of the pursuits of a “successful” soon-to-be-attorney (i.e., for law review, a high paying law firm, summer associate job). Some students will not even realize that stress and anxiety have become major, often debilitating, challenges for them because others around them are competitively striving for the same goals and experiencing the same level of stress and anxiety in pursuit of those goals.

What You Can Do

1. Maintain a Balanced Life

For students to deal with the rigors of law school and to prevent stress and anxiety from taking over their lives, it is vital that they achieve balance in all areas of life. Think about it: when do law students feel the most stressed out? It is not usually in the middle of the semester when finals seem a long time away, but at the end when students are in the midst of finals. Not surprisingly, this is also the time when students are least likely to be maintaining any semblance of a balanced life.

You might feel like you can get away with living an unbalanced life momentarily, but eventually, if not addressed, an unbalanced life will wear you down and burn you out. Each person is unique, some needing more attention to certain areas than others, but it is important for each student to set aside time every day for each area of his or her life. 18 - Spiritual - Whether this involves attending weekly church services, quiet meditation in the morning, or simply believing in something bigger than yourself, it is vital to set aside time to care for your soul. - Physical - For law students this is often the most neglected area. Remember to do what you know you are supposed to do: eat right, get enough sleep each night, exercise, avoid smoking, monitor your caffeine intake and, if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. If you are not addressing your physical needs, try doing so; especially if you get into a regular positive routine, you will be amazed at how much better you will begin to feel. - Social - Remember to set aside time for some plain old fun. All work and no play will soon wear you down. Everyone needs a social outlet or community where they feel welcomed and accepted, and where there are people in whom they can trust and confide. - Mental - You might think that law school should take care of this part, but caring for your mind -mindfulness-a technique and practice to raise self-awareness and be fully in the moment - includes your own thoughts and “self-talk,” as well as your awareness- of thoughts, habits, and emotions that are not serving a positive purpose. Constantly saying defeatist things like “I’m so stupid,” “this is impossible,” “it probably will never work,” suggest that you need to change the way you talk to yourself. Challenge beliefs: “If I don’t make law review, life is over – or I will never get a good job, etc...” Is this a rational statement? Check out Ellis’s 12 irrational beliefs and see if they apply: http://changingminds.org/explanations/belief/irrational_beliefs.htm. Negative thinking and a defeatist attitude can create stress and ultimately lead to depression. Try reading a few books on positive thinking (for example, “Man’s Search for Meaning”). See also “Mindfulness and the Law”: http://nwlawyer.wsba. org/nwlawyer/april_may_2014/?pg=9#pg1

- Personal - When is the last time you did something just for you? Many law students do not know how to set aside time for themselves. Remember to do things that will lead you to grow as a person, and do not forget about those old hobbies that you really enjoyed before law school.

2. Cope with Stress in a Healthy Way

All law students will experience stress. It is a part of life. The key indicator of success though is once you experience stress, how do you cope? If your normal way of coping with a long stressful day is to grab a bottle of alcohol - then you are not really coping, you are escaping. Law students and lawyers in general are notorious for their drinking habits. The profession revolves around happy hours and cocktail events, and a number of law schools also sustain these events – both officially and unofficially. Many times, law students even rationalize their heavy drinking based on the fact that law school is so stressful and tough. This is a dangerous road to travel and can lead to a whole host of other problems. “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character: it becomes your destiny.” - lao tzu