More than 25% of law students have had psychiatric and substance-use disorders; are they hiding it?
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A significant number of law students are struggling with mental health and substance use issues, yet they are reluctant to seek help, according to a survey published last month.
More than a quarter of surveyed law students said they had been diagnosed at some point for depression, anxiety, eating disorders, psychosis, personality disorder or substance use disorder, Bloomberg News reports. Results of the survey, taken from February to May 2014, are summarized in this Bar Examiners article (PDF).
Forty-two percent of the surveyed law students said they thought they needed help in the past year for emotional or mental health problems, but only half of that group had actually received counseling from a health professional. And only 4 percent had sought help from a health professional for drug or alcohol problems, though the survey shows a higher number reported binge drinking and drug use.
One of the study authors is Jerry Organ, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis. “Students who probably need to seek help are profoundly reluctant to,” he told Bloomberg, “because they don’t perceive seeking help as being beneficial to their bar admission process.”
More than 3,300 law students at 15 law schools of different sizes and geographic locations responded to the survey, which included screening questions for depression and anxiety. The study, the Survey of Law Student Well-Being, also found:
• Seventeen percent of the respondents screened positive for depression, and 18 percent said they had been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives.
• Twenty-three percent of the respondents screened positive for mild to moderate anxiety, and 14 percent screened positive for severe anxiety. Twenty-one percent said they had been diagnosed with anxiety at some point in their lives.
• Forty-three percent reported binge drinking at least once in the prior two weeks, and 22 percent reported binge drinking two or more times in the prior two weeks. (Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more drinks in a row for women.)
• Fourteen percent had used marijuana in the last 30 days and 2.5 percent had used cocaine in the last 30 days.
Asked about factors that would discourage them from seeking help for drug or alcohol use, 63 percent of the students cited the potential threat to bar admission and 62 percent cited a potential threat to a job or academic status.
Asked about factors that would discourage them from seeking help for mental health issues, 48 percent cited the potential threat to a job or academic status, 47 percent cited perceived social stigma, and 45 percent cited the potential threat to bar admission.
Besides Organ, the study authors are American University Washington College of Law associate dean David Jaffe and Dave Nee Foundation programming director Katherine Bender.
ABA Journal: “Substance abuse and mental health issues are a growing problem for the legal profession, say experts”
Penultimate paragraph changed on Jan. 13 to say “perceived social stigma.”