NZLSA MENTAL WELLNESS GUIDEBOOK
In 2013, NZLSA, created a Mental Wellness Guidebook for New Zealand Law Students. In 2016, that guidebook was updated to its current format. The guidebook is aimed at promoting mental wellness awareness and eliminating the stigma of mental illness for all New Zealand law students.
NZLSA MENTAL HEALTH SURVEY 2013
In June 2013, the New Zealand Law Students’ Association (NZLSA) conducted a survey of New Zealand law students about their mental health and wellbeing. The purpose of the survey was to gain a picture of law students’ mental health to determine whether any issues existed and, if so, how NZLSA should act in response.
The survey confirmed that some mental wellness issues exist in the New Zealand law student community. Over 60 per cent of New Zealand law students attribute high stress levels to their studies, and a quarter report developing a clinical mental health disorder since commencing at university. Of those, 1 in 6 affected students believe their law studies were a direct cause of their illness, and a further half of affected students cite being a law student as a contributing factor. The disorders recorded include depression, anxiety, eating disorders and OCD.
Full Survey Results
By the numbers
In total, 880 students completed the survey. 90 per cent of the students were aged 17 to 25 years, with 8 per cent were aged 26 to 40, and 2 per cent were aged 41 and over. 83 per cent of the students studied law alongside another degree. Responses were received from students at each of New Zealand’s six law schools.
When asked if they have a high level of stress as a student, 63.5 per cent of survey respondents answered “yes, mainly from being a student”; a further 23 per cent said they did, but that it came from areas of life other than being a student; and only 13.5 per cent said “no”. Students were then specifically asked if studying law was a cause of their stress. 40 per cent said legal study was a direct cause, with a further 55 per cent saying it was at least a moderate cause. Students were also asked whether they felt more exposed to stress as law students. 88 per cent of students said they did.
As to how stress affects students, survey respondents were asked to select feelings they identified with when stressed (students could select more than one or none of the options). Over half of students identified with feeling depressed (55 per cent) and unmotivated (60 per cent) when stress affects them. Two thirds of students identified that stress made them feel discouraged in their studies.
Students were also asked about their eating habits when stressed and during high pressure periods at law school. Nearly a third of students said they consumed a high level of fast food and energy drinks during such times. A further 62 per cent of students said they occasionally had unhealthy treats during stressful periods.
Clinical mental health disorders
Students were asked if they had developed any clinical mental health problem since being at university. Over a quarter (27 per cent) said “yes”. If they felt comfortable to do so, students were asked to specify. Most of them did, with answers including (sometimes combinations of) depression, anxiety, eating disorders, OCD, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, self-harm and insomnia.
The students who suffered from mental illness(es) were then asked whether they thought being a law student attributed to their illness. 1 in 6 of the students affected identified law studies as a direct cause of their mental wellness issues. A further half of the affected students identified law studies as a contributing factor in generating their illness.
On top of the students who had developed mental wellness issues at university, 14 per cent of students stated they had come to university with existing mental illnesses. Of those students, only 2 per cent had declared a mental health difficulty on their university enrolment.
Students were asked to identify why they thought studying law was particularly stressful. Students were given a range of options and could select more than one or none of the options). The factors selected by students in the highest numbers were:
- high expectations for top grades (selected by 89 per cent of students);
- the pressures of finding a job after law school (selected by 70 per cent of students);
- the amount of readings (selected by 63 per cent of students);
- the amount of time that had to be dedicated to study (selected by 56 per cent of students); and
- the pressures exerted by other law students (selected by 51 per cent of students).
By contrast, only a quarter of students selected the number of examinations as a stressful factor of legal study, and only 18 per cent said the amount of papers required was stressful.
Talking and listening
Students were asked if they talk to anyone about their feelings if they are stressed whilst at law school. 58 per cent said they speak to family and friends and 7 per cent said they speak to professional services. 35 per cent of students, though, said they do not talk about stress and prefer to deal with it on their own. Yet 95 per cent of survey respondents said they would be open to listening to and supporting their friends who talked to them about mental health problems. Only 5 per cent said they would feel uncomfortable doing so.
How to help?
The survey asked students whether effective study techniques would be helpful to reduce some of the stress they had identified. 78 per cent said they would. Asked if they would be interested in reading a self-help booklet targeted to law students, three quarters said they would be.