The Legal Beat
Suicidal Law Students Are No Laughing Matter
Posted on Friday September 15, 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 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 WISH someone told me how mentally distressing law school was going to be.
I had my first episode of major depression when I was 18 in high school. For three months I was barely functional, but never told anyone what was going on. I experienced my second episode after my sophomore year. I was suicidal. I started therapy and anti-depressants. I didn’t think about my mental health once before starting law school and I wish I had.
1L year was certainly stressful, but I dealt with it. Then during my 1L summer, I was interning abroad and living alone. Being so isolated created a perfect situation for me to become severely depressed once again. Starting my 2L year, I started talking with my psychiatrist about trying a different anti-depressant. One that I tried made me so suicidal for a week or so, I was talking with my therapist every day and most likely should have taken the semester off, but I didn’t because I thought I would lose an amazing internship opportunity.
Being in law school while experiencing major depression was awful. I felt like I was keeping this terrible secret. If it got out, I feared my career would be over. All I wanted to do was share the pain I was in, but I was SO terrified to do so. I opened up to a few professors who were very supportive. That being said, the general advice that I got was to stick it out and do whatever I had to do to get through until I passed the bar. Once I passed the bar, I would be “allowed” to talk about mental illness in law school. I didn’t want to wait. I spent 3L year trying to organize events or spread information about campus resources. I found some resources online for lawyers with depression. Staff were generally supportive, but seemed to have the impression that they were doing enough. Some students would take resources from a table, but other walked by scoffing or joking about the idea of suicidal or depressed students.
I’m still working on being the most effective lawyer I can be — and it will always be a struggle — but if I made it through law school, so can others. SO many people will experience their first instances of major depression during law school. I experienced my third. It was awful, and feeling like I had to keep this major part of my life a secret was an awful feeling. But I did make it through. And I sincerely hope that in the future it will be better. Folks who experience mental illness can be successful and effective lawyers if they know themselves well enough to take care of themselves along the way. I really want to help others know that they can get through this.
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.