Mental health wellbeing is crucial for law schools

Several Ugandans tend to undermine their mental break-downs. PHOTO | FILE | COURTESY 

What you need to know:

  • Admittedly, the taxing nature of legal education often engenders stress and anxiety, rendering their complete eradication an insurmountable task.

As we commemorate Mental Health Month, it is incumbent upon us to introspect deeply on the matter of mental well-being within the precincts of law schools and contemplate the means through which we can lend support to students grappling with this issue. 

It is widely acknowledged that law schools often subject students to an overwhelming pressure, exacting a toll on their well-being.

This pressure emanates from an unrelenting drive to excel and compete favorably with their peers. 

However, this onerous burden does not merely cease at the confines of law school; it permeates through the corridors of the Law Development Centre (LDC) and pervades the professional realm, detrimentally impacting the mental health of aspiring legal practitioners. 

While this challenge is not exclusive to Uganda or confined to law students alone, it is regrettable that we have yet to undertake thorough research to ascertain the true magnitude of these adversities, despite incessantly acknowledging their existence.

Across universities beyond Africa and esteemed law societies, endeavors have been made to investigate mental health challenges prevalent in law schools and subsequently proffer solutions. 

During my pursuit of a master’s degree in counseling psychology in 2021, my research veered toward the realm of mental health, particularly as it intersects with the legal profession and law students. 

I grappled with the task of substantiating the foundation of my problem statement, only to encounter an alarming dearth of authoritative sources beyond the confines of newspaper articles, which are inadequately suited for academic writing.

This predicament compelled me to reflect upon the possibility that while mental health issues may be prevalent among law students, our repositories of data and the levels of interest displayed by law schools and legal societies may be inadequate to grasp the urgent need to address mental health challenges and raise awareness regarding this pressing matter.

Admittedly, the taxing nature of legal education often engenders stress and anxiety, rendering their complete eradication an insurmountable task.

However, it is incumbent upon us to deliberate upon methods to support students in mitigating the deleterious effects these challenges impose upon their lives. 

We cannot idly stand witness to students resorting to self-destructive behavior or, worse yet, contemplating suicide as a coping mechanism in the face of mental health challenges.

Additionally, it is imperative to identify key mental health challenges commonly encountered in law schools, including but not limited to depression, stress, anxiety, and relational issues.

Contemplating potential solutions, may I propose the establishment of a culture of care within the ranks of law lecturers and legal professionals alike?

While the pursuit of academic excellence often commands the spotlight in law schools, it behooves lecturers to venture beyond their comfort zones and exemplify kindness, demonstrating genuine concern for their students’ mental well-being.

Teaching is a vocation pursued by individuals driven by an abiding love for education. 

Thus, when observable signs of distress manifest in students, such as frequent absenteeism or unkempt appearances suggestive of inebriation or neglect, these may serve as red flags indicating that the student is grappling with challenges necessitating intervention. 

It is incumbent upon us to encourage our students to proactively seek help when they find themselves in distress, assuring them that it is perfectly acceptable to admit vulnerability.

This transformation must emanate from the faculty of law administration and the lecturers themselves, who must earnestly inspire and embolden students to reach out for assistance whenever the need arises.

The time has come for us to initiate candid conversations surrounding the mental health and well-being of individuals both within the legal profession and the hallowed halls of law schools, including the Law Development Centre (LDC). 

This imperative endeavor aims to ensure that students graduating from law schools possess a solid foundation of mental well-being before embarking on their journey within the legal profession. 

Moreover, it is incumbent upon the law society to foster such discussions and potentially incorporate them as integral components of Continuous Legal Education (CLE) programs, thus effectively addressing the paramount concerns surrounding mental health and well-being.

Jane Patricia Bako