This year, a range of new initiatives have arisen at the ANU targeted at better protecting the mental health of those studying at the ANU College of Law. These include the LSS Wellbeing Committee (from the student-run Law Students Society) and the Law Wellbeing Initiative (run by the ANU College of Law).
The recent movement towards a more supportive environment for law students’ mental health
comes after the ANU hosted the National Wellness for Law Forum earlier this year. Tom Kesina, who is involved in both the above groups, says that “questions were raised [at the forum] about whether the College was doing enough,” leading to the birth of the COL Law Wellbeing Initiative. The LSS Wellbeing Committee was formed shortly afterwards.
The LSS Wellbeing Committee aims to promote wellbeing amongst law students, and to ensure widespread awareness of the resources available to them to help them manage distress, as well as “smashing the stigma around mental ill health.” Kesina said that as a student-run organisation, the LSS is “well-placed” to engage with students about wellbeing, “especially when it comes to things like social afternoons.”
The Committee will organise events such as wellness seminars, and a careers fair focussing on alternative career paths for law graduates, as well as the social afternoons for law students to “connect with each other in an informal setting.”
The goal of the Law Wellbeing Initiative, as a project of the College, is to introduce structural change in order to address the causes of mental health problems amongst law students, said Kesina. He said that other groups which focus upon student wellbeing and mental health “do not address the issues that cause distress in the first place – which is the curriculum and the way the law is taught. The Initiative will be primarily focussing on these structural issues.”
According to the New South Wales Law Society, law students report experiencing high levels of distress at over double the rate of the general population, and 13.3% of law students report “very high” levels of distress (compared to 3.1% of the general population). Law students are also at a significant risk of experiencing depression, at an incidence of 46.9%.*
Kesina says that although there are “a lot of groups promoting mental health on campus,” the role of the LSS Wellbeing Committee and the Law Wellbeing Initiative is in “focussing on the specific barriers facing law students in accessing these services.”
Kesina said that in the push to address mental wellbeing amongst law students at the ANU, it’s important to “look at [the issue] holistically, and inform what we do as an Initiative and a Committee with research.”