Last spring, William & Mary Law School introduced a new series called “Wellness Wednesdays,” a program aimed at helping law students cope with stress and encourage overall wellness. In a profession where stress can often lead to more serious health concerns, this program is a welcome tool to help students develop beneficial habits before they begin their legal careers.
It is well-known that both law school and the legal profession can be stressful. As a result, chronic stress, high rates of depression, and substance abuse are a significant concern for law students and lawyers. According to a 2016 study, 19% of lawyers experience anxiety at some point in their career, while 28% reported experiencing depression. Furthermore, the study found that lawyers in their first ten years of practice experience the highest rates of depression and are the most at-risk for developing problems with alcohol as a result of issues related to work. Many of these mental health issues develop early on in law school, when students are under pressure to ace their exams, make Law Review, and land that perfect summer job. Another study conducted in 2016 found that almost 17% of law students have experienced depression, while 23% have reported feeling anxiety at some point during law school. These numbers demonstrate just how important it is for students to begin to develop healthy habits in law school so that they can maximize wellness and use these coping mechanisms as they navigate stress throughout their legal careers. In fact, in 2017, in response to these concerns, the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being published a series of practical recommendations for how to educate lawyers and law students on issues related to mental health and well-being and how to take “small, incremental steps to…instill greater well-being in the profession.”
William & Mary Law School’s new “Wellness Wednesdays” program aims to do just that: to educate students regarding mental health and well-being and to help students “decrease stress, enhance focus, and come together as a community.” Each Wednesday, the Law School hosts two different events, at two separate times in the afternoon, to maximize opportunities for attendance. All events are open to the entire law school community, and students, faculty and staff can all be found in attendance at many of the programs. This fall, some of the events include panels addressing topics such as ”Imposter Syndrome,” “Detecting Signs of Distress and Depression,” maintaining healthy relationships, and avoiding substance abuse. Another program on “Stress and Nutrition” will discuss how stress affects our bodies and brains and what steps people can take to improve their nutrition. Finally, there are several events that focus on “Mindfulness,” where participants can learn scientifically backed skills to manage stress and anxiety, improve memory and enhance the quality of their lives. Events such as these, and the occasional puppy therapy, chair massages and yoga sessions, will help law students develop healthy habits during law school while giving them tools to navigate stress as legal professionals after they graduate. As one student put it, “These are lifelong lessons we are learning!” In addition, for those who seek more intensive and individualized solutions, the Law School also offers wellness coaching appointments with a licensed clinical psychologist on-site once each week, with more robust services available to all students at William & Mary’s new McLeod Tyler Wellness Center.
Students at the Law School are already excited about the new initiative. Gabby Vance J.D. ‘21 expressed her appreciation for the wellness programming that William & Mary Law School offers, saying, “Law school can be very stressful at times and I loved from the beginning how William & Mary acknowledged that and provided real solutions through their year-long programming.” The “Wellness Wednesdays” program not only demonstrates William & Mary Law School’s commitment to the mental and emotional health of its students, but it shows yet another way that a William & Mary education prepares students to become “citizen lawyers.”
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.