Daniel Suvor wants law schools to recognize the elephant in the living room -- or rather the classroom -- with an initiative he is pushing as the leader of nation's largest law student group.
This month, the American Bar Association Law Student Division will launch a mental health initiative with the goal of helping law students who are battling depression and anxiety.
"It's something that no one talks about," said Suvor, a third-year student at George Washington University School of Law and chairman of the 51,500-member group.
Part of the ABA Law Student Division's plan is to establish March 27 as the group's National Mental Health Day at law schools. The organization will provide schools with a mental health toolkit, which is an online source for student bar organizations and law deans to make available to students.
Included in the toolkit is "The Hidden Sources of Law School Stress," a pamphlet written by Lawrence Krieger, a clinical professor at Florida State University College of Law.
Krieger, whose scholarship focuses on work-life issues for lawyers, has conducted research showing that practicing lawyers exhibit clinical anxiety, hostility and depression at rates that range from eight to 15 times the general population. His research also indicates that out of 104 occupational groups, lawyers rank the highest in depression.
Despite law schools' reputations as grueling and highly competitive, Krieger does not advocate changing their operations. Instead, making students aware that feeling anxious or depressed is common during law school is the best way to help them, he said.
"An institutional denial problem is alive and well," he said.
The initiative also calls on law schools to make available to students mental health professionals who can help if they get into emotional trouble.
Even though most law schools have such services through their larger university affiliations, students frequently do not realize those resources are available, Suvor said.
One objective of the initiative is to help de-stigmatize problems with depression and anxiety among students. Often students avoid seeking help because they are concerned that they may have to disclose their problems in order to sit for the bar exam in their jurisdiction.
Last month, the American Bar Association adopted a model rule that would grant conditional admission to practice law to applicants who have substance abuse or mental health conditions. Many jurisdictions may deem applicants unfit to practice for those reasons.
The model rule, which is only advisory for individual jurisdictions, would grant conditional admission to applicants who demonstrate recent rehabilitation or successful treatment for mental illness.
"A lot of law students are afraid to seek counseling because they believe they will have to disclose that on the bar exam," Suvor said. "We need to change that."