Harvard Law School is set to conduct a mental health survey of its students in November, part of a trend in which legal educators are playing a larger role in the well-being of their J.D.-hopefuls.

The survey aims to measure the rate of law students who have experienced mental health incidents, determine the adequacy and accessibility of existing mental health services and identify areas for improvement, and define the culture and stigma of mental health concerns on campus. It was developed by the Harvard Law School’s Student Mental Health Association, its student government body and the university’s Health Services Office.

“We recognize it as a first step in not only helping our students, but hoping to effectuate some change in reporting in the legal and professional community,” said Amanda Lee, vice president of Harvard Law’s student government. “Addressing the need for care is something that would support both attorneys at large and make us better and more empathetic representatives.”

The survey data will help student government to understand the areas of need and to advocate for those mental health services at school, she said.

Mental health struggles among law students have been well-documented in recent years.

In a 2014, Yale Law School surveyed 300 students, and 70 percent had experienced a mental health challenge while in law school. Of those students, 30 percent were unable or unwilling to seek help.

In addition, a nationwide survey in 2014, the Survey of Law Student Well-Being, which canvassed some 3,000 students from 15 law schools, found that 18 percent had been diagnosed with depression and 37 percent screened positive for anxiety. More than half of the law students reported getting drunk at least once in the past 30 days, and 22 percent said they binge drank two or more times in the past two weeks.

Law students in Harvard Law’s student government and Student Mental Health Association since last spring have been gathering information about the mental health resources that their school offers. They came up with the idea for the survey because they wanted more information about the services that students need and want. They partnered with Harvard University’s Health Services office to craft the survey, while contributing questions specifically relevant for law students.

Harvard law dean of students Marcia Sells said that the school on Nov. 1 would email a link to the online survey to just over 1,800 law students and give them about three weeks to respond. Sells said she’s hoping that at least 60 percent of the students fill out the anonymous survey. She said she’s excited to learn about whether the school’s existing mental health resources are helping students, and if not, what the school might do better.

“What are the things we can do to provide more support or to understand when those points of challenge for students happen,” Sells said. “What can we do to support them?”

Student Government President Adrian Perkins said that he and Lee ran for their positions on a platform that included putting students first by creating a healthy environment at school.

“The student body absolutely has been one of our priorities,” Perkins said.


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