From left to right: Mckenzie Cross (staff), Manel Atserias Luque (president), Ferran Garcia de Palau Garcia-Faria (Well-Being Committee), David Jaffe (Associate Dean of Student Affairs of the American University Washington College of Law), Gabriela Boldó Prats (Well-Being Committee) y Albert Ruda (Dean of University of Girona Law School).
In 2014, David Jaffe was one of three professionals to set in motion a change in how we look at mental health among legal professionals. He graduated in 1993 from American University, Washington College of Law with his Law degree. He has been Dean of Student Affairs since 1997. Anyone who has the honor to meet him can immediately appreciate the love and dedication he has to not only his job but the students that he encounters. I could listen to him speak at a conference in Girona, Spain and to learn about the study that he was apart of.
The article, “Suffering in Silence: The Survey of Law Student Well-Being and the Reluctance of Law Students to Seek Help for Substance Use and Mental Health Concerns,” was the results of the Survey of Law Student Well-Being (SLSWB). The study included 3,300 students from fifteen different law schools. It was the first multischool study on law student use of alcohol and street drugs in twenty years, and the first-ever study to address the use of prescription drugs. The study is allowing society to acknowledge that the mental health within law students is an issue that needs to be addressed and worked through.
The results of the study showed an astounding number of students struggling with mental illness. However, the study also showed how those students believed their mental illness would be perceived by the staff of their college as well as the American Bar Association. The study reported that fifty-three percent of law students drank enough to get drunk in the past thirty days. Seventeen percent of students were screened positive for depression, and thirty-seven percent screened positive for anxiety. With numbers being so high, it is incredible that it is not considered a better know problem; however, Universities cannot help students if they are not coming forward. The study showed that only four percent of respondents sought professional help with drug and alcohol abuse. Sixty-three percent of students reported that they feared there would be a threat to their bar admission if they sought help for alcohol and drug abuse. However, the percentage is only slightly smaller with forty-five percent fearing the same repercussions if they stepped forward with a mental illness. The study shows many different issues among law students; however, the most impressive part of Jaffe’s work was not the study, but rather his dedication to finding solutions.
Suffering in silence identifies a few actions that could be put in place to help students. One of the most important activities was for faculty to have strict attendance policies. This will help faculty look for warning signs, such as a missing student class unexpectedly or coming in late with no notice — also the policy that faculty should attend regular training on how to identify the warning signs of mental health issues. A faculty member that can recognize strange behavior and approach the student with nonjudgmental looks and listening ears will get a better response then students seeking help on their own. Another action that David Jaffe spoke of at the conference was to make a drug and alcohol course mandatory for incoming law students. This could help students to know the risks of their behavior as well as opening them up to understand that the college cares about their safety and health.
Mental health among law students is a growing issue. With help from people like David Jaffe and others, we can help put into place policies and actions to help them. Students need to know that they are not alone and that how they are feeling is not their fault, being compassionate and working to make them feel comfortable and not judged will help to turn this epidemic around.