Law students say they avoid therapy because they worry it could affect their job prospects
- States are debating the value of a question inquiring about mental health on a questionnaire law students must fill out before they are deemed able to take the bar and become lawyers.
- According to one survey, 45% of law students do not seek mental health treatment out of fear it would affect bar admission for them.
- Several states, including California and Louisiana, have removed questions about mental health treatments from this questionnaire. New York is considering removing it as well.
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A high proportion of law students say they do not seek mental health treatment out of fear that it will scupper their career prospects, sparking a debate about how best to support the millions of young people entering the profession every year.
The concern stems from the fact that, in most states, students are asked about their treatment history in a lengthy questionnaire and an interview to determine if they are fit to take the bar.
In New York, for example, question 34 says, in part: "Do you currently have any condition or impairment including, but not limited to a mental, emotional, psychiatric, nervous or behavioral disorder or condition…which in any way impairs or limits your ability to practice law?"
According to a 2014 Survey of Law Student Well-Being sponsored by the American Bar Association, 45% of law students do not seek mental health treatment out of fear it would affect bar admission for them.
Changes to the questionnaire have to be approved by the highest court of the state, but some states are considering taking that step.
Several states have removed the question, and more are considering it
Several states, including California and Louisiana, have removed questions about mental health treatments from the bar character and fitness evaluation, saying these questions create a stigma around law students seeking mental health treatment. Virginia and Florida added a statement saying that "the Board supports applicants seeking mental health treatment" in answer to the question.
New York is contemplating eliminating the question altogether.
The American Bar Association Commission on Disability Rights says 38 states still have questions about mental health on their forms.
The New York State Bar Association released a report in August 2019 calling for the removal of question 34. "Question 34 is a lose-lose proposition, and we respectfully urge its elimination," they wrote. The report also found the questions ineffective in identifying unfit candidates, and an invasion of people's privacy, as well as a way of stigmatizing people with disabilities based on stereotypes.
"If students even have that belief or perception that raising the specter at all is going to be problematic, they are just going to dive down," David Jaffe, author of Suffering in Silence, a survey of 3,300 law students, told CNN.
"They're not going to even entertain or explore it." The study surveyed 3,300 students from 15 schools and found that 45% believed seeking help would prevent them from passing the bar.
Lawyers are part of the estimated 46 million Americans experiencing mental health issues, but in the legal profession this is just beginning to be discussed.
One 2016 study found that 28 percent of licensed, employed lawyers had depression, while 19 percent had anxiety, 23 percent experienced symptoms of stress, and 21 percent drank too much. Many lawyers graduate with crushing debt, which on average is about $145,500, according to NerdWallet, and then face a career with long hours and intense pressures.
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