Oct. 22, 2019 — University of Houston Law Center students were treated to food, fun and functions from Oct. 7–Oct. 10 as part of Mental Health Week, a program inspired by the National Mental Health Day for law schools recognized yearly on Oct. 10.
Director of Student Advisement Monica Mensah, who coordinated the week, said she is grateful that the Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, which launched National Mental Health Day, saw a need to address law student stress and cultivate resources to healthily manage it.
“Mental health has become more of a phenomenon in the limelight now and it’s more accepted,” Mensah said. “We have to change our gears and make sure that we are accommodating our students and meeting them where they are.
“We want to make sure that our students feel safe, they have a comfortable environment to not only express their feelings and express the fact that they are dealing with mental health issues, but know that their faculty members and staff members and administration are there to support them in every way that they need to be successful in law school and as lawyers.”
In addition to a relaxation station set up in the library from Monday to Thursday, a range of activities for full-time and part-time students were hosted throughout the week. Some of these included smoothies, açaí bowls, snow cones, dinner and a health and wellness fair.
To start the week, Erica Grigg of Texas Lawyers Assistance Program delivered a talk about substance abuse rates among law students and lawyers, even sharing her own story of alcoholism. She informed those in attendance of ways to prevent reliance on drugs and alcohol.
“What TLAP does is we help lawyers, law students and judges who are experiencing mental health challenges like anxiety, stress or depression, or perhaps experiencing a substance use issue — we help get them the help they need,” Grigg said.
The presentation detailed statistics about substance abuse in the legal field, resources available to those seeking help and 10 things that can be done every day to live more positively, such as embracing imperfection, prioritizing yourself and laughing regularly.
Currently, 30 percent of lawyers under 30 grapple with substance use issues, and lawyers have 2.4 times the rate of substance abuse problems as doctors.
“Let’s work on changing as a culture the stigma of reaching out for mental health. It is totally OK to reach out when you need help,” Grigg said. “There is this impression that we have to do major things to improve our mental health, and, actually, what we know is that we can do little things throughout our day to greatly improve how we process stress and how we process anxiety.”
A petting zoo where Law Center students played with goats, a tortoise, a kangaroo and other animals concluded the week’s events.
“I think Mental Health Week here is really great; I’m happy the school supports it — it’s super important,” said 2L Hannah Strawser. “I think the animals that they brought are so cute and awesome and I think it’s a great way to celebrate this week.”
Aspiring to provide even more resources to students and in response to receiving emails and calls commending Mental Health Week, Mensah is considering hosting the same initiative in the spring.
“We’ll do it every year,” Mensah said. “Actually, we want to do something similar each semester and offer these types of events to make sure that our students know yes, law school is stressful, but we’re here to support you, and if you need help, don’t feel ashamed about needing help and don’t feel ashamed about your mental health ailment, disabilities or whatever may be going on.
“We’re here to support you, and we will do whatever we need to do to make sure you’re successful.”