Students at Rutgers Law School formed the Students Mental Health Association (SMHA) in 2019 to bring awareness to mental health issues affecting students, particularly clinical stress and depression, in addition to anxiety and substance abuse.
“While students enter law school suffering from clinical stress and depression at a rate that mirrors the national average, the rate sharply increases during the first year of law school,” said SMHA founder S. Deven Amin RLAW ‘21 Through the duration of their legal education, the rates of law students grappling with substance abuse and mental health problems increase dramatically. If unrecognized and untreated, these issues can carry into their professional careers.”
Amin said the student organization was supported by the law school administration, especially Dean of Students Sarah Regina. The law school has signed on to the American Bar Association’s Well-being pledge and created a Health and Wellness page with student resources on the law school’s website.
Highlighting better mental health for law students and lawyers is part of a national movement. The American Bar Association National Task Force on Lawyer Well Being has recognized mental health issues among lawyers, including rates of substance abuse and suicide and outlined recommended steps to better health.
At Rutgers, the SMHA has held several events to offer students resources and to provide activities to help them maintain their mental health and wellness. During the last school year, they included:
- Celebrating World Mental Health Awareness Day with free coffee and granola bars for students, and a poster board for positive affirmations and giving students green ribbons, the national color of Mental Health Advocacy, to spread mental health awareness.
- Hosting a Stop, Drop & Yoga session where the instructor taught students breathing techniques to promote relaxation and well-being during the school’s lunch hour. Once the law school moved to remote learning, SMHA hosted weekly live-streamed yoga classes.
- Organizing and hosting a panel to talk about mental health issues in marginalized communities that included representatives from law school affinity groups, who shared strategies for dealing with the challenges of law school within their respective organizations.
- Collaborating with the Women’s Rights Law Reporter to support the school’s annual Valentine’s Day carnation sale and providing blank Valentine’s Day appreciation cards to spread positivity.
- Giving students hot chocolate before finals as a stressbuster.
- Promoting health, wellness, and positivity during the summer through social media outlets.
- Inviting corporate lawyers to speak on a panel on mental health and wellness in collaboration with the Rutgers Society for Corporate Law and Governance, the Rutgers Center for Corporate Law and Governance, and the Rutgers Business Law Review.
- Providing an alcohol-free environment for students during the school’s annual buddy mixer.
- Working with the New Jersey Lawyer’s Assistance Project, which donated student de-stress packets during the pandemic that gave students supplies that could be helpful during finals.
The SMHA continues to partner with professional law firms to host panels and bring awareness to mental health issues, including lawyers from HSBC and PSEG. The SMHA’s work has been recognized by some legal publications, including the New York Law Journal.
“For this upcoming semester, we will continue to support our mission and hope that past our efforts have impacted Rutgers Law for the better,” said Amin. “Additionally, we look forward to partnering with other organizations on campus and alumni to host events promoting mental health and wellness and continue this meaningful dialogue.”