Mental health. Just saying those two words gives me a sense of anxiety. I know it’s something that’s extremely important, but even in 2018, mental health remains a taboo topic. Mental health continues to be something that’s more comfortably whispered in the shadows, and, as a result, something we’ve learned to be ashamed of and ultimately ignore. However, when it comes to the topic of mental health, ignorance is not bliss. Ignoring this issue will only result in inevitable consequences for yourself and around your personal relationships. Furthermore, if you’ve chosen to become an attorney, ignoring this issue will only result in consequences for your clients and the possible downfall of your legal career.
As an attorney myself, please recognize that I’m completely aware of how especially taboo this topic is in the legal realm. The cycle of shame begins its course from the moment we complete our first law school application and quickly notice that disclosing mental health issues could act as a barrier to our acceptance. It further continues when we’re required to disclose mental health issues on the bar exam application and on the character and fitness application, a disclosure that we are well aware can block our access to the practice of law. However, we can’t allow this shame to make us ignorant and block us from living in the truth of our situation. If you want to succeed as an attorney, you have to take ownership of your mental health and what’s a better time to begin taking ownership than before you delve into bar prep?
This Mental Health and The Bar series is a three-part discussion on how being proactively aware of your mental health status can benefit you during bar prep and post bar prep. In part 1: we will discuss how mental health awareness can help you to maintain your sanity during the bar, in part 2: we will discuss how a good study space during bar prep can positively impact your mental health and finally, in part 3: we will discuss how to proactively practice and maintain good mental health habits during that post bar waiting period and during your legal practice.
So with that said, let’s jump in!
Part 1: A Discussion on how Good Mental Health Can Help you to Maintain Sanity during Bar Prep
As your final semester comes to a close, and you check into bar prep mode, it’s important not to check your mental health at the door. Losing your sanity is an unfortunate side effect of the stress that can develop during bar prep and if your mental health is not in check when this stress creeps up, your experience will undoubtedly be overwhelming. Therefore, as you jump into bar prep it’s important to be proactively aware of your mental health status, incorporate treatment into your study schedule and most importantly go at your own pace.
Being Proactively Aware of your Mental Health Status
Do you know your current mental health status? If you’re about to sit for the bar exam I definitely recommend finding out exactly what your status is so that you can account for self-care within your bar prep study schedule. It doesn’t matter if you feel like you’re perfectly fine. A primary consequence of remaining ignorant to mental health issues is thinking that we are mentally healthy unless we are experiencing the extremes of mental illness. The truth is that mental illness runs the gamut from that anxiety you experience before an exam and the ADD many students try to drown with popping Adderall, to the clinical depression which grows out of control by the time you begin practicing law. Being aware of your mental health status means that you can find healthy ways to treat your mental state instead of falling into the statistic of attorneys who turn to substance abuse to cope.
Before jumping into bar prep you may want to take some time to see a therapist and complete a mental health assessment. If you’re currently a student you may have access to a psychologist for free or at a discounted rate. In the alternative, if you can’t see a therapist face to face, completing an online assessment may at least give you an idea of where you stand mentally.
Incorporate Treatment/Therapy into your Study Schedule
Once you’ve completed your mental health assessment then it will be important to stay on top of your treatment during bar prep. Treating your mind is just as important as treating the cold or migraine that might pop up during preparation.
Working self-care into your bar prep schedule is important! If you received treatment recommendations make sure you stay consistent in carrying out that treatment during bar prep. Incorporate this treatment into your study schedule by blocking out a time in the day in which you must get this done. If your recommendation was therapy, make sure to schedule and actually attend your therapy sessions. If your treatment involved medication, make sure you stay on top of taking this medication in the correct dosage for as long as your doctor has recommended. Even if your assessment cited you as being mentally healthy, it is important to maintain good practices such as exercise, healthy eating or even meditation during bar prep. It’s important to realize that a stressful endeavor like bar prep can throw your mental health out of whack.
Go at your Own Pace
Finally, if you want to maintain your sanity during bar prep, it’s important to go at your own pace. If you are enrolled in a bar prep course, there will likely be a schedule provided for you to follow. Although it’s important to stay on top of this schedule, I don’t recommend doing so at the expense of your mental health. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, take a moment to pause and re-assess your schedule. Perhaps you may need to re-work your schedule to go at a slower pace. Going at a slower pace does not mean you can’t be entirely prepared. I just recommend running through this re-assessment with a bar exam tutor or mentor who may be able to guide you so that you can stay on track with the exam timeline.
If you do become too overwhelmed, I want you to embrace the idea of slowing down and possibly taking the exam at a later date. Your mental health is of primary importance, and it would do you no good to over-exert yourself and sit for the bar at a time you are not mentally ready. The bar exam is offered two times a year, therefore pushing your dates back may not throw you completely off track. Remember that staying healthy is most important as you start your journey to becoming a practicing lawyer.