Lost & Found: Mental Health Awareness

When I sat down to write about mental health awareness one story came to mind. It was the day before on-campus-interviews (OCI), which is an extremely stressful time for us 2Ls.

I met a friend to do a mock interview, and when I reached for my phone to set the timer for 17 minutes, I realized it was gone. I re-traced my steps in the Goldring building. I checked the couches upstairs, the washroom, and the water fountain, but it was gone.

I went to the student council lounge on the second floor to ask for help. I was met by an undergraduate representative. It was his first hour on the job and his first year at U of T. He helped calm me down. He logged me into “Find My I-Phone” and we watched the little blue dot bounce across campus. Together, with a laptop in hand, we chased the blue dot. Luckily, there was no thief, but it was the custodian from Goldring simply doing his job returning the phone to lost and found.

I realized a few things from this experience that tie into mental health awareness. As law students, we experience a great deal of stress, from exams to finding a job. When you are in a stressful time like OCIs, it is important to take your time, look around, and take a deep breath. It is so easy to do careless things (like losing your phone), and jump to conclusions (like assuming that the person who took your phone was a thief) when you are under stress.

More than that, you need to rely on other people. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that we are all here to help one another. I was touched to meet the student, a total stranger, who was willing to drop everything to help me. I think that being in a community where people feel like they can rely on one another can do positive things for mental health. The more that we can trust each other and be there for one another in times where we feel powerless or stressed, the stronger our law school community can be.

The Health and Wellness Committee

Most of us will experience some form of stress during our time at law school. Law school can be a competitive and demanding environment, and many of the stressors that we deal with at law school map onto the legal profession more generally.

How should the law school address health and wellness? Any steps to raise awareness of mental health issues or address them should be informed by students themselves. The administration has adopted this notion as fundamental to its health and wellness policy. At the beginning of 2012, the Faculty launched the Health and Wellness Student Advisory Committee (HWSAC).

The Committee, which is in its second year of operation, provides a regular forum to ensure communication between students and the administration. The goals are two-fold: (1) to acknowledge health and wellness problems, and (2) to respond to them. The Committee is open to all law students, and meetings are held about once a month.

The Committee represents an opportunity for students to be actively involved in shaping the institution of law school to better address mental health issues. So far, HWSAC has launched several initiatives, such as yoga, Smoothie Days and massages. Last year, the Committee also launched a health and wellness blog, www.meetingoftheminds.com.

Many of these initiatives, however, focus on promoting health and wellness during peak-stress periods, like exams. One could argue that broader, more systemic change is needed at law schools and in the legal profession. Nonetheless, HWSAC, in being open to discussion and adopting a creative approach to promoting health and wellness, is an important initial step because it is based on student input.

If you are interested in learning more about the committee, contact Assistant Dean Alexis Archibold at alexis.archibold@utoronto.ca.