The Legal Beat
Depression In Law School: What Your Friends Are Struggling With, But Won’t Tell You About
Posted on Monday August 14, 2017
Welcome to the latest installment of The Struggle, a series where we examine the mental-health issues that students encounter during the oftentimes grueling law school experience. We are posting these stories because sometimes what law students really need is to know that they’re not alone in their pain. Sometimes what law students need is to know that they’ve got a friend who is willing to share not just in their triumphs, but also in their struggles. These are real emails and messages we’ve received from real readers.
If these issues resonate with you, please reach out to us. Your stories need to be heard. You can email us, text us at (646) 820-8477, or tweet us @atlblog. We will share your stories anonymously. You may be able to help a law student who needs to know that someone else has been there before and survived.
I go to a top tier law school in the southern US. The average age of the students in my program is 24. I am in my late 30s. Most of the students at my school are from the south, and most come from rich families (or at least families that look rich compared to mine). I don’t think the culture difference would be so bad if I wasn’t also failing. My average grade ranges from a B- to a B, which feels like failing in law school.
There are times when I love studying law, but most of the time the work is wrapped up with feelings that I haven’t done enough work or anxiety about something related to my upcoming career. Overall, I’m failing because I’m making bad decisions—procrastinating more than anything.
I’m also married. My wife works in the city, and my school is 1 ½ hours (one way) outside the city. There was a closer school, but it was much lower on the ranking, and I wanted to go to the best school possible. This has put a huge stress on our marriage. During 1 and 2L, it was because of long commutes. This year, we’re living separately.
Every law student I talk to has a plan. If you ask where someone wants to practice or what kind of law she specializes in, chances are that person has a clear answer. I do not. My most well thought out plan is my suicide plan, which I think about every day.
As I said, there have been some long commutes, and that’s what I would think about during the car ride: how and where I would do it, and what would happen to my student loan debt. I feel like crying every time I think about what my suicide would do to my wife and my mother. I think about how selfish a choice it is—how I’m transferring my pain onto them—, but I also don’t know how I can keep doing this. I’m so unhappy. I’ve never felt like such a failure. I’m burdening my wife and I with over 100k in debt, and so far, it doesn’t look like I’m good enough at this to make that debt worth it.
I try to remember not to judge a career in law by my experience in law school, but I can already see myself heading for whatever the shitty version of lawyer’s work is. My grades are low, and I didn’t get an internship for 2L summer (I had to make some money and was only offered unpaid positions). Overall, I feel like I’m way below the curve, and not just on exams.
I think feeling so bad makes the work harder to start, then I procrastinate, then the panic sets in because I’ve waited too long, and then I crash into a deep depression. I’m so ashamed of the person I’ve become. It’s so hard to talk. I don’t mean it’s hard to tell the truth, but that it feels like so much effort to talk. I just want to sit in front of the TV or lie in bed and not say anything to anyone. I do communicate what I’m feeling, but I’m also careful. I never share any of this with my mother, because she’s old and religious, and I just couldn’t tell her that her son wants to put a bullet in his brain. I have shared extensively with my wife, but that just makes her feel bad. I also went to a therapist for several months. The appointments felt good, but still, every day I thought about killing myself. I also had to stop because I couldn’t afford the health insurance.
My thoughts these days are dark. Mr. Armstrong saw skies of blue and clouds of white. I see factory farms and political strife. I know some things that would probably help me: positive thinking, therapy, exercise. I also know what it’s like to have a job that I’m good at and enjoy (sadly, never one that was those things and paid well). I do not know whether I’ll ever have that in the legal field. It feels like you can, but the answer is the same as everything in law school: work incredibly hard and beat out the others who want the same thing. For some, that’s inspiring, but it just makes me want to give up. I think that’s what this is about: I see a mountain of work that I don’t seem particularly good at, so I want to give up, and walk away. However, if I leave now then I’m leaving with about 75k in debt and nothing to show for it. Plus, maybe, maybe I like being a lawyer.
Anyway, that’s my story, except I want to add one more thing: I hear a lot about “raising awareness” at the law school. I think that’s good, but I also think it’s important to realize how much people lie. I’m an expert at this. I know how to share just enough with that friend who sees me staring off into space while everyone’s talking. I know how to communicate the message that it’s bad but not too bad. This is just me saying that with this particular topic, awareness goes both ways. As you learn what to watch for, I learn what not to show.
Most law schools have counseling and psychological services resources that students and graduates can turn to if they are in crisis or would like counseling, even after hours. If these services are not available at your school, and if you or someone you know is depressed and in need help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or a lawyer assistance program in your state (don’t be fooled by the name; these programs also provide services to law students). Remember that you are loved, so please reach out if you need assistance, before it’s too late. Don’t become a statistic — please seek help.
Staci Zaretsky has been an editor at Above the Law since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.