Young attorneys, law students prone to mental health issues

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ada-yoga-3-forweb-15col.jpg Members of the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Yoga Club practice outside as a mechanism for coping with stress. (Photo by Dave Jaynes, courtesy of IU McKinney School of Law)

When Katie Sheean was in her first year of law school at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, she found herself getting sick, but not because of a virus spreading among students. Instead, the extreme stress and anxiety caused by her attempt to adjust to the rigors of a legal academic workload were beginning to manifest themselves in physical ways, leaving her feeling emotionally, mentally and physically drained.

Sheean’s story is not uncommon among law students, and recent data supports the theory that the stress of building a legal career can lead to an unhealthy mental state among law students and young attorneys. A 2016 study by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation found that law students and attorneys under the age of 30 are among those likeliest to suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues and, by extension, to choose to cope with those issues in unhealthy ways.

Among a study sample of 11,516 participants, 61.1 percent reported dealing with anxiety, while 45.7 percent reported suffering from depression. The study further showed that the likelihood of struggling with those and other mental health issues, including extreme stress, decreased among older attorneys and those in more senior positions, leading to the conclusion that legal professionals just beginning their careers are likeliest to struggle with a mental illness.

That statistic was surprising to Terry Harrell, executive director of the Indiana Supreme Court’s Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, who said those conclusions about young attorneys were previously unknown. Through her work at JLAP, Harrell and her team works with service providers across the state to connect attorneys struggling with mental or other illnesses with the help they need.

While anxiety and depression are the illnesses most commonly associated with the phrase “mental health,” Harrell said JLAP also treats substance abuse and addictions as mental health issues. That inclusion of substance abuse is important because the Hazelden Betty Ford study also shows that roughly 20.6 percent of participants answered alcohol-related questions that scored at a level of problematic drinking.

Martin Martin

Attorneys younger than the age of 30 were among the likeliest to abuse alcohol, with 31.9 percent of participants that age scoring within the “problematic drinking” range.

Even before the Hazelden Betty Ford study, JLAP was in the habit of providing services to law students by speaking about the importance of wellness at Indiana’s law schools. Further, Allison Martin, a clinical professor of law at IU McKinney, incorporates discussions about mental and physical well-being into her Professional Responsibility class, a course all law students are required to take.

Martin frequently invites Harrell to speak on wellness issues with students in the course, but often, students are hesitant to vocally discuss their problems in front of their classmates. But when Harrell’s public presentation is over, Martin said her students will line up and wait for the chance to discuss their problems privately with her, showing that stigma is still a hurdle to overcoming mental health problems.

Many of the wellness problems — mental and physical — that occur during law school are born from acute stress, especially in the early semesters when students are learning to adjust to the workload and behavioral expectations that come with being a law student, said Sheean, now a 3L.

Martin, who has also worked extensively with the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, said her goal in teaching her students about wellness is to help them to understand the best coping mechanisms for acutely stressful situations in law school and in life.

Sheean Sheean

With the help of former law student Melissa Brown, Sheean introduced a new coping mechanism to the IU McKinney campus — a yoga club.

Brown, who is a certified yoga instructor, began her first session of the club with the theme of “unloading the shopping cart of stress,” urging her students to mentally address each of the stressors in their lives and remove them from their minds one-by-one. Sheean said carrying that mental image through her time in law school has helped her compartmentalize her problems in her mind and, thus, has enabled her to deal with her stress more effectively.

Finding effective coping mechanisms — whether that’s yoga, seeing a therapist or receiving more advanced medical treatment — is critical to properly managing mental health issues and preventing them from becoming larger problems, Martin said. And as the study’s results imply, those coping mechanisms become even more important during the transition from law students to attorneys.

Sara McClammer, chair of the Indiana State Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section’s Wellness Committee, recalled the culture shock of transitioning from student to practicing attorney.

McClammer McClammer

Law schools don’t often teach about the day-to-day requirements of being an attorney, so young attorneys enter their first legal jobs — which are often also their first professional jobs — often feeling stupid at work because of their inexperience and dealing with even more stress than in law school. But through the Wellness Committee, McClammer said she hopes to create a safe haven for young attorneys who are struggling with extreme stress or mental health issues.

In the past, the bar has focused more on physical health than mental health, offering activities such as 5K runs to promote physical fitness. But the goal of the Wellness Committee will be to address the issue of wellness more generally and offer services such as meditation sessions and classes on identifying the early warning signs of a mental health issue, McClammer said.

The most common warning sign is a consistent change in a person’s “baseline,” or normal behavior, Harrell said. For example, if an attorney who is normally ready to begin the work day at 7 a.m. begins coming into the office later and with a less-enthusiastic attitude, that is likely a sign that there are deeper issues that need to be addressed, Harrell said.

Combatting stigma is one of the most serious hurdles to mental health treatment, Martin said. For example, the fear of failing a character and fitness examination can prevent law students from reaching out in their time of need, she said.

But Bradley Skolnik, executive director of the Indiana Board of Law Examiners, said students should never avoid seeking help just because they are afraid of looking bad on a bar exam application. Rather, Skolnik said a willingness to identify and respond to mental health issues actually reflects well on bar applicants because it shows that they are doing their best to deal with their illnesses in an attempt to better both their careers and their lives.

Further, Harrell emphasized that the work of JLAP is entirely confidential, so lawyers who turn to the organization for help need not fear that their peers will learn about their struggles.

Additionally, Harrell said JLAP is often associated with attorneys who are struggling with substance abuse or addiction. But legal professionals who simply need someone to help them talk through their stress can be served by JLAP, she said.•


  • A passing note ... airman down
    Anon asks: "What kind of lawsuits would you be involved in here in Indiana?" The upshot of this question, likely posed by my oppressors, is "we reserve the right to decide if you are a good fit with the Indiana bar_ -- and you are not worthy since you refused to pledge all of your allegiances, without caveat for even Christ, to the superstate on an Examiner's command." Of course this is blatantly discriminatory -- even totalitarian. But beyond that, consider this ... I was born and raised a Hoosier. I returned to Indiana in 2007 to be with my aging parents. I had been licensed in KS since 1996, SCOTUS since 2000, never disciplined, many times published in the federal law books, read the law and realized (I thought) that surely no impediment kept me from becoming an Indiana licensed attorney. I vastly underestimated the BLE's resolve to violate the constitutions to keep me unlicensed. I ended up having to move away, losing so very much ... suffering economically for believing that due process would win in the end. Sadly, last night my father, John Roger Brown, who had stood with me through it all, watching me come home to be with him and then have to watch me move away again, taking five of his grandchildren, due to the BLE's hostility ... the BLE using JLAP to acid test my Christian orthodoxy .... sadly last night my father lost his ongoing battle with so many health issues. He will never see my children again in this life. I will soon return to Indiana from Kansas to bury my Father, and then leave again, leaving my elderly Mother behind this time. I wish Dad could have witnessed justice done as to my bar application, wish he could have died with my children as his neighbors as we had planned. The force of injustice have rather triumphed, over and over, in this life. RIP Dad, you sacrificed and served during the Korean War for the freedom of others, only to then watch helplessly as agents of one of the very government you served, that is, BLE/JLAP bureaucrats, backed to the hilt by the ISC, then acid tested your firstborn son as to his religious faith much like the Marxist powers that you so bravely resisted operated during their Christian persecutions in Pyongyang, Beijing and Moscow. Such sad irony to note in the passing of JRB 1930-2017; my Father wanted me to fight such misuse of government power, I did it for him and for freedom:
  • Be wary, be very wary
    Re Anon: "I have read through parts of your Cert and to be honest, it sounds like you are attacking ... [the system]" Yes, attacking. The Left, that is the ACLU/ICLU, why when they question the government it is a "challenge." But when I use the constitution of Indiana, the constitution of the United States, the rules of the Indiana Supreme Court and the federal statutes to challenge the Board of Law Examiners and JLAP ... that is "attacking." As in bad, violent, must be put down by all means necessary, even if violating the court's own rules. My third Hail Mary to the SCOTUS highlighted this manipulative misuse of language by the entrenched Hoosier bureaucrats ... see here, pages 20 & 34: "Attacking" you allege, Anon? That likely reveals for whom you work. I plead in response that I was only doing this, as urged by my Kansas licensing authorities, as urged (but evidently only tongue in cheek) by the Indiana Supreme Court: " As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession....The legal profession's relative autonomy carries with it special responsibilities of self-government. The profession has a responsibility to assure that its regulations are conceived in the public interest and not in furtherance of parochial or self-interested concerns of the bar.... Every lawyer is responsible for observance of the Rules of Professional Conduct. A lawyer should also aid in securing their observance by other lawyers... Self-regulation also helps maintain the legal profession's independence from government domination. An independent legal profession is an important force in preserving government under law, for abuse of legal authority is more readily challenged by a profession whose members are not dependent on government for the right to practice." This same Hoosier preamble is found in most state professional codes. My experience demonstrates, in spades, that as to Indiana it should be accompanied by a laugh track. (The joke, and its attendant economic collapse, is on me.)
  • Due process be damned
    Re: Anon's appeal to "discretion" to justify the complete abandonment of the rule of law and constitutional protections. Our next Supreme Court justice, Justice Neil Gorsuch, (I love the way that sounds) faced such tomfoolery with panache. I like the way he said it ... and I think it fits well my 2009, 2012 and 2016 Hail Marys to the SCOTUS documenting serial violations of law by certain Indiana courtiers, including JLAP, and it especially fits those in supervisory or fiduciary roles in JLAP, the BLE and the ISC who realize that manifold errors were done due to bias and animus, but have not the courage to do anything but sadly look away, pretending that it has to be so under the Hoosier system: "Often enough the law can be “a ass — a idiot,” Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist 520 (Dodd, Mead & Co. 1941) (1838) — and there is little we judges can do about it, for it is (or should be) emphatically our job to apply, not rewrite, the law enacted by the people’s representatives. Indeed, a judge who likes every result he reaches is very likely a bad judge, reaching for results he prefers rather than those the law compels. So it is I admire my colleagues today, for no doubt they reach a result they dislike but believe the law demands — and in that I see the best of our profession and much to admire. It’s only that, in this particular case, I don’t believe the law happens to be quite as much of a ass as they do." Judge Gorsuch the Just, the Courageous, the Prophetic. Dissent, Nos. 14-2066, 14-2183, A.M. v. Holmes
    • Background understanding
      Anon, per your seeming misunderstanding of the gravity, depth and impact of my situation ...
      • Nothing to see here, move along?
        OK, much to unpack in that challenge. First off, I do very much appreciate the forbearance to blow the whistle on this ezine. I doubt the editors and publisher much agree with my politics, but I believe they realize that what I have documented in my oft linked petitions for cert (3) and other documents reveal a threat to constitutional governance, due process of law and even the very rule of law, and so, in keeping with their own solemn duties as the guardians of freedom and focal point of free speech, tolerate me. Kudos to them. I have counted more than 25 instances of my putting before the state and federal judiciary, since 2008, substantive, professional presentations of law asking for a substantive review of what has been done to me, to wit, a lifetime banishment from court for refusing to sieg heil the political correctness du jure by proving my sole allegiance to the superstate upon command. About 25 legal filings of substance over an eight year period, not one public government filing addressing my concerns. Such is not how constitutional republics are supposed to operate. I have instead experienced tyranny, pure and simple. There is much to say in answer to Anon's challenge, but I will open with this post voicing appreciation to Indiana Lawyer for granting this forum in which petitions to redress grievances denied by government officials can be aired. Government agents may complain -- that is only evidence of how very important forums like this are. FREEDOM .....
        • Re: Beware all ye who pass this way
          What kind of lawsuits would you be involved in here in Indiana? I have read through parts of your Cert and to be honest, it sounds like you are attacking a discretionary aspect of the legal professions "gate keepers" this, to me, seems no different than being critical of a judge's decision in a case. I can understand your frustration. But, part of being a lawyer is losing from time to time. Man up, brother. Isn't it nice that this website does not censor comments???
          • Beware all ye who pass this way
            My JLAP experience counsels caution. I was remanded by the bar examiners, in keeping with the discretion given them by the Ind S.Ct. into JLAP from Jan 25, 2008 to Jan 22, 2009. As a direct result of that tour of duty in care of their hand-picked, handsomely paid, ideologically-attuned psych-fessionals, I am now banned for life from the Indiana bar. My refusal to adopt the demanded political correctness was my ostensible mental illness, a yellow star stapled to my sleeve. I will post at the end of this note the primary documents proving this up. (Funny thing, never have any bureaucrats filed against my Kansas license for posts like this or my legal work against them.) Here is what is most important to realize if you are sent into their parlor: JLAP is a tool of the court that must raise funds to survive. It raises funds by keeping persons under its ongoing tutelage by order of the court. Those so ordered, either via the BLE (conditional licenses) or a disciplinary matter, or even (at the beginning) voluntarily pay monies to keep the system afloat, pay to support JLAP's handful of chosen psych-fessionals. Those in the system also become the statistics JLAP uses to justify to the court and legislature their continued rule over those remanded to them. This psych-plantation system was busted hard by the DOJ in Louisiana in 2014, and the BLE supposedly agreed to not partake in such a system. See here: Alas, the BLE is not quite as keen on not using this plantation of the allegedly mentally ill as they claim, and esp when it can be used to sideline "extremists" .... as my briefing at appendix pages 110-115 here clearly reveal: Read the facts in my three denied pet for cert to the SCOTUS to see just how JLAP uses its hand picked psych-fessionals to destroy those who refuse to assume the position: and I escaped their clutches when they remanded this pro-life activist out of their system on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade years ago. I will never escape the stigma they carved into my forehead.

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