Peter Lee’s Advice Column: Depression

Peter Lee Giving Advice on Surviving Depression

By Peter Lee  Sept. 8, 2014

As was touched on in our first print edition of the year, while we go about this business called law school we may succumb to depression. I mean, let’s be real, law school is not the ideal place to maintain a happy state of mind. Law school frequently fosters poor mental health with its challenging academic work, hyper-competitive classmates, and the growing risk of never finding a job that will pay off our well-invested loans. Talk about pressure. Am I right? Luckily, there is a good number of genuine people who would actually care about this sort of thing. And if you are reading this article then you are probably one of them. So this article is for you, you genuine person. This article is about what you can do if you know, or suspect, a classmate to be suffering from depression.

Before addressing the tips about what you can do for others, let us talk a bit to the person that is currently struggling with depression. My 1L year can serve as an example. When I started law school, I came with excitement to learn new things, but also fear that I would not be able to succeed. After my first semester, I started to cave under the pressure to perform. It got to the point where I would feel constantly overwhelmed and then I would just shut down. I felt like I could not face my family and I also felt isolated from my friends, though I typically had a cheery exterior. Everything that I used to enjoy became dull; I felt helpless. To the point of tears at times and these feelings went on for a good portion of the school year. While I eventually got through it, it was not without help.

I survived by reaching out. And I know that that is the most difficult thing to do when going through something like depression. The moment you tell someone, not only have you reached out, but you’ve also acknowledged that this is an issue and need help. I spent more time with people I know love and care for me. Luckily for me, I did not have clinical depression, but even then if it were not for some very good friends, it could have been much worse.

But let us get back to you, the genuine person of law school. Here are some tips:

  1. Be alert. Although it is sometimes (though not always) easier to tell with your closest friends, there are plenty of people in school that you will see regularly, class after class, semester after semester, that are harder to understand. Pay close enough attention to those around you and you might notice something is not as it should be.
  2. Ask how that person is doing. It is not easy for anybody to admit that they are struggling with depression. But the more questions of  “How are you?” that are asked, the more willing that person is to share.
  3. Be genuine. This goes along with Number 2, but conveying true genuineness is key. Think to a personal experience where you were having a crappy day, but someone asked you how you were doing, like they actually meant it, and consider whether it made your day better.
  4. In serious cases, perhaps ask a member of the faculty or Law Student Affairs to check in with your classmate. If you feel uncomfortable talking to a classmate that you suspect of suffering depression, then you may not be the best person to talk to that person. It may not always seem like it, but the faculty and administration are on our side. They want us to succeed. Strange though it may feel to ask a grown-up for assistance, they may be in a better position from sheer life experience than another stressed out student with limited patience and a brain subsisting on caffeine alone.

All in all, remember that law school can be a difficult place to be. But we can all make it through our stints in one piece if we learn to help each other out along the way.

For those students who feel they are struggling adjusting to law school or with law school stress in general, the USD Counseling Center (http://www.sandiego.edu/usdcc/) is a wonderful resource. The Counseling Center staff provides a range of confidential services to enhance the emotional, relational, and psychological well-being of all students. Any law student (regardless of health insurance) may utilize the Counseling Center. Walk-in hours are 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and until 5:00 p.m. on Wednesdays.

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