THE AUSTRALIAN Law Students’ Association (ALSA) is getting proactive on depression in law schools, after a study revealed depression is occurring at considerably higher rates among law students than in the general population.
The study, by Professor Ian Hickie of the Brain and Mind Institute, found that among other things, 40 per cent of law students suffer from depression requiring medical treatment. The study caused university deans across the country to express their concerns, with the findings leading to depression emerging as a key priority at a recent ALSA council three-day meeting.
“Everyone was quite shocked by the figures to come out of that study,” said Verity Doyle, president of ALSA. “I think it really is a silent problem and that is one of the reasons why we feel it needs such a proactive approach.”
In their discussions, ALSA members considered why depression occurs at such higher rates in law students than the general population. “It was generally agreed that, to some extent, because law students are quite proud and outgoing, no one wants to admit to it,” said Doyle. “A big part of what we do has to be about raising awareness.”
The organisation is determined to be proactive on the issue, and as a priority, work to assist students in recognising the links between alcohol, drugs and depression. This may mean working to minimise the use of alcohol in law school-related functions, particularly during exam times when students might be feeling extra stress.
“There’s a problem in that a lot of students have post-exam drinks, and pre-exam cocktails,” she said. “The general feeling is that we need to include information on other events that can be run which don’t put on alcohol in times of high stress.”
ALSA has also promised to establish a working group of students from around the country to create a guidebook for distribution at law student societies and associations Australia-wide. Early plans are for the book to raise awareness of the problem, provide information and support services, as well as information on how to create a mentoring scheme among law students. “It may also include information about what the problem is, warning signs, and how to identify and look out for the problem in peers,” said Doyle.
ALSA also found a need for more research into the problem, and is looking to work with mental health and professional organisations on further enquiries into what might cause such a high incidence of depression in law schools.
According to Doyle, addressing the issue comes down to sharing the responsibility across law students, law schools and the profession as a whole. “We call on all law schools in particular to consider how they can improve the environment in which they teach and provide better support services in response to this problem,” she said.
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