William & Mary Law School recently introduced a program aimed at helping law students cope with stress and encourage overall wellness.
“Wellness Wednesdays” aim to educate students regarding mental health and well-being and to help students “decrease stress, enhance focus, and come together as a community.”
Starting last semester, the Law School hosts two different events every Wednesday as part of the program, at two separate times in the afternoon, to maximize opportunities for attendance. All events are open to the entire law school community, and students, faculty and staff can all be found in attendance at many of the programs.
This fall, some of the events include panels addressing topics such as imposter syndrome, signs of distress and depression, maintaining healthy relationships and avoiding substance abuse.
Another program on stress and nutrition will discuss how stress affects bodies and brains and what steps people can take to improve their nutrition. Finally, there are several events that focus on mindfulness, where participants can learn scientifically backed skills to manage stress and anxiety, improve memory and enhance the quality of their lives.
Events such as these, and the occasional puppy therapy, chair massages and yoga sessions, will help law students develop healthy habits during law school while giving them tools to navigate stress as legal professionals after they graduate. As one student put it, “These are lifelong lessons we are learning!”
In addition, for those who seek more intensive and individualized solutions, the Law School also offers wellness coaching appointments with a licensed clinical psychologist on site once each week, with more robust services available to all students at William & Mary’s new McLeod Tyler Wellness Center.
Students at the Law School are already excited about the new initiative. Gabby Vance J.D. ‘21 expressed her appreciation for the wellness programming that William & Mary Law School offers, saying, “Law school can be very stressful at times, and I loved from the beginning how William & Mary acknowledged that and provided real solutions through their year-long programming.”
Both law school and the legal profession can be stressful. As a result, chronic stress, high rates of depression, and substance abuse are a significant concern for law students and lawyers.
According to a 2016 study, 19 percent of lawyers experience anxiety at some point in their career, while 28 percent reported experiencing depression. Furthermore, the study found that lawyers in their first 10 years of practice experience the highest rates of depression and are the most at-risk for developing problems with alcohol as a result of issues related to work. Many of these mental health issues develop early on in law school, when students are under pressure to ace their exams, make Law Review and land that perfect summer job.
Another study conducted in 2016 found that almost 17 percent of law students have experienced depression, while 23 percent have reported feeling anxiety at some point during law school. In 2017, in response to these concerns, the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being published a series of practical recommendations for how to educate lawyers and law students on issues related to mental health and well-being and how to take “small, incremental steps to … instill greater well-being in the profession.”