Law.com, 'Law School Was Kind of a Shock:' Students Take the Lead in Mental Health Initiatives:
Luke Finn expected to find a robust network of mental health supports in place when he showed up at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law in 2017.
He assumed an American campus would be more attuned to wellness than schools in his native U.K., where stiff-upper-lip attitudes prevail. Instead, he was underwhelmed by what he found offered at the Chicago law school.
“As a 1L, it seemed obvious to me that people needed something they weren’t getting,” said Finn, who is open with classmates about his own struggles with depression. “There were people having anxiety attacks by October.”
Rather than complain about what he viewed as a lack of programming centered on mental health and wellness, Finn decided to do something about it. In his first semester he started the Students Mental Health Alliance—a student-run organization dedicated to wellness programming, education, counseling access and other supports. It began as informal peer counseling, but the 18-month-old group now produces a variety of events from mental health panels and sessions timed to especially stressful periods of the academic year—finals, for example—to a weekly email to all Northwestern law students listing wellness events and resources. The group even partnered with Illinois Lawyers Assistance Program to double the amount of on-campus counseling offered.
Northwestern is hardly the only law campus where students have assumed the mantle of mental health advocacy. Across the country, a growing cohort of law students are pushing administrators to invest more in wellness initiatives. Students are also holding events, forming their own wellness organizations and securing funding. At the same time, students appear more eager to participate in mental health programs led by peers, rather than administrators. ...
While mental health challenges remained stigmatized in the legal profession, changing attitudes among millennials are helping to turn the tide, said Finn. Today’s law students have come up through more supportive undergraduate environments and in general are more comfortable discussing mental wellness.
“There was some resistance when I started on this issue, rooted in the idea that it will make the school look bad if you are doing an activist-y mental health thing,” he said, noting that Northwestern’s current dean, Kimberly Yuracko, has been receptive to his advocacy. “I think there’s a realization now that actually it’s a good thing. If you’re trying to recruit the best or most mature students, then showing that you take people’s emotional and mental health seriously is a selling point.”