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Joseph F. Rice School of Law

Mental Health, More Than Self-Care

South Carolina Law encourages students to take advantage of available resources and develop the necessary skills to ensure their well-being

For anyone that has attended law school it should come as no surprise that law students are stressed.

“I think law school is a breeding ground for mental health crises,” says 2L student Lauren Waklatsi. “Law school is a completely mental game.”

Without proper guidance, students have the potential to become professionals ill-equipped to handle the same or increased levels of stress. In a recent study surveying nearly 15,000 attorneys, more than 60 percent gave answers consistent with having anxiety while 45 percent gave answers consistent with having depression.

This year, ABA Journal reported that lawyers experience alcohol use disorders at a rate twice the national average. Those with serious mental health concerns are also likely to have substance use problems.

To a certain degree, stress is unavoidable, which means learning healthy coping mechanisms is crucial. South Carolina Law is committed to developing prepared, capable lawyers by prioritizing mental health, in part through the recent appointment of Abby DeBorde, a full-time mental health professional exclusively for students to access.

“We had the benefit of a counseling graduate student whose schedule was consistently booked solid. This made us aware of an unmet need at the law school, which we are seeking to address by bringing in Ms. DeBorde,” says Susan Kuo, associate dean for academic affairs. “By making mental health counseling available in the law school for all students, we also hope to destigmatize mental health counseling and increase awareness of the importance of mental health.”

But it’s more than the appointment of an embedded mental health professional. The entire law community in South Carolina is working to provide students with the means and agency to become healthy, well-adjusted lawyers of the future.

The South Carolina Bar has a program called Lawyers Helping Lawyers that is available to all lawyers, judges, and law students struggling with substance use, mental illness, and/or stress-related issues. The Stress and Burnout Engagement Group, under the Lawyers Helping Lawyers umbrella, reminds students they aren’t alone by fostering community through discussion, panels, and more. In addition, they offer referrals, five free counseling sessions, and a 24-hour confidential service line.

For students looking to decompress in a quiet space in the law school, there’s the meditation room on the third floor, replete with recliner, giant bean bag, and a weighted blanket. Anyone interested in accessing the room need only ask for the key in student affairs.

Recently, Assistant Dean for Advancement and certified yoga instructor Sally McKay began offering free yoga classes Thursday mornings in the Courtyard.

The student Health Law Society is planning a health week in October with activities like yoga and mindfulness to encourage students to consider their own needs and inform them about existing resources. They also promote the “Blood Battle,” a blood drive competition between South Carolina and Clemson.

“Mental Health is something very near and dear to my heart,” says Health Law Society President, Lauren Hribar. “As a 3L, I have realized how important taking care of yourself genuinely is.”

But in an environment where their peers are also their greatest competition, do students find it difficult to be vulnerable with each other about their challenges?

“Not at all,” says Waklatsi. “I think if we weren’t honest, we couldn’t hold each other accountable to stop pushing through and take some time to rebalance, reset, and edit our routines for our needs at the time.”

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