Speaking My Truth: Mental Health in Law School

mental health depressionPlease welcome back Gabriella Martin, 2L law student at Quinnipiac University School of Law, who writes about managing mental health issues in law school. 

My mental health isn’t something I usually advertise. Of course, it’s not necessarily a secret (especially now), but the truth of the matter is that I have dealt with depression, anxiety and social anxiety since middle school. Psychological disorders like mine are not something that ever shifts into the past tense. I cannot magically cure my condition any more than a diabetic can wave a magic wand to rid themselves of their diabetes. It is something I have, and something I must learn to manage.

And while life has thrown me a number of curveballs, nothing has made it more difficult to manage my mental health than law school. I remember after the first month I felt as though my body and brain had run a marathon. By the end of my first year I felt as though I had gone through the ringer a hundred times over.

Law school is hard. When you’re dealing with a psychological condition, it becomes a NAVY SEAL boot camp. But just like boot camp, you can get through. You will be pushed to your absolute limits and lowest points, but you will come out stronger because of it. Here are a couple tips for avoiding a breakdown (#beentheredonethat) and succeeding little by little each day.

Self-Care is More Than Eating and Sleeping

For the entirety of my 1L year, I forced myself to get about 6-8 hours of sleep and eat three meals a day. With those two things under my belt, I thought I was good. I thought I was taking care of myself. Ha!

Looking back, I couldn’t have been more wrong. By being so hyper focused on those two things, I was ignoring the chaos that was the rest of my life. It was as though the dark cloud of stress had overshadowed those other key things in my life—taking medication, exercising, and taking time to be happy—not to mention the fact that I was in no way dealing with that stress. I was just letting it accumulate and take its toll on me. All that ignorance got me a one-way ticket to a full-on breakdown my 2L year. Not pretty.

So believe me when I say that if you’re only checking off the two basic needs boxes on your self-care checklist, your mental health is on its way down the toilet. Eating and sleeping are things we need to function, and while they’re critical, they don’t count as self-care. With law school eating away at the majority of our daily supply of hours, keeping self-care a priority is a key element of successful management of your mental health (and just a successful life if we’re being honest).

Self-care can include exercising, meditation, journaling, taking a moment for yourself, etc. You don’t have to get complicated either. Meditation, for example, can be as easy as listening to music for a bit and clearing your mind or taking a walk to do the same. However your self-care takes shape, make an effort to practice a little self-care each and every day. That includes during memo week and finals, too!

Acknowledge Your Difference (Even Just To Yourself)

Managing a mental health condition makes an incredibly hard venture, like law school, even more difficult. Don’t berate yourself for struggling or for not being to juggle as many things as everyone else seems to. As my mentor once said, “As long as you’re not skipping every class and spending all of your time in front of the TV, you are doing enough.”

You have to quit expending energy on worrying about being different from everyone else. Instead, focus on creating coping techniques, keeping your mind clear, and staying strong enough to get through each day. Yes, you are different. But different doesn’t mean broken. It just means that you must take the non-traditional path in order to be the most successful version of yourself.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

If you’re like me, this can be a nearly impossible task. The minute we ask for help, we feel as though we are admitting failure. But the conundrum is that others don’t see it that way (if they do, they’re not the right people to get help from). Especially in our profession, people are always happy to assist and field questions. We are in a people profession, which means from the moment you entered law school, you were no longer in a solo venture.
In other words, you are not alone. No one expects you to do it all on your own.

When it comes to mental health, help can come in a variety of forms, from speaking to a trusted friend or professor to an appointment with a licensed counselor or therapist. You have to seek out the help that works for you and fits your comfort level. Sadly, like most things in the real world, help is not just going to drop in our laps one morning. We have to be our own advocates for our mental health. Be zealous advocates, not silent ones.

Remember, you are never alone in this fight and in this journey. You will get through and you will succeed.


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About Gabriella Martin

Gabriella Martin is a law student at Quinnipiac University School of Law in the Intellectual Property concentration. Gabriella graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in English Literature which furthered a passion for creative writing and analysis. Gabriella is involved in several ABA committees and numerous student organizations--including a 1L mentoring program. When she is not writing for Law School Toolbox or The Girl's Guide to Law School, Gabriella can be found catching up on TV shows, discovering new music, and going on adventures, both big and small.

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