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Proactive approach to Ontario law students’ mental health | Ocean Enbar and Monica Santos

Thursday, September 02, 2021 @ 12:19 PM | By Ocean Enbar and Monica Santos

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Ocean Enbar
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Monica Santos
It’s back to school season and law students across Ontario are gearing up for yet another unconventional academic year. Aside from the added challenges stemming from the pandemic, the law school experience is already recognized to be an undertaking full of heightened degrees of pressure and stressful experiences.

In a previous article in The Lawyer’s Daily, Sharath Voleti, a former Ontario law student, highlights that the bulk of the pressure comes from “the intensity of schoolwork, the grade curve system, the strong correlation between grades and job attainment … and high student debt.” In 2012, the Canadian Bar Association found that 48 per cent of lawyers, judges and law students surveyed experienced anxiety and 26 per cent suffered from depression.

The ongoing pandemic only further intensified the law school experience and its impact on mental health. Academics, extracurriculars, recruitment efforts and social gatherings all rapidly became virtual. The transition to a virtual learning environment forced students to face the weighing stresses and anxieties of law school in relative social isolation. The pandemic ultimately made it apparent that more needs to be done with regards to law student wellness.

The incoming executive team at the Law Students’ Society of Ontario (LSSO) has identified student well-being as a priority for the upcoming academic year and is working on innovating the wellness tools available to law students. For context, the LSSO is the primary advocacy body for undergraduate law students across the province. The organization is governed by an elected executive team, a Council of Representatives from each law school’s elected student government and an Advisory Board comprised of past LSSO presidents and council members. The wellness initiative currently in the works will streamline proactive wellness tools directly to law students. The initiative will involve a collaboration of Ontario law student societies to provide interested law students with a subscription to the app “Headspace.”

Headspace is an accessible tool, available via any smartphone, that can help students reduce stress and anxiety, promote better sleep and focus, and generally support student well-being. The app offers science-backed guided mindfulness meditation sessions tailored for the varying wellness objectives sought by the user. Internal studies show that using Headspace for 10 days can reduce stress by up to 16 per cent, and 30 days of use can lower stress by up to 32 per cent. Dozens of campuses across North America are recognizing the positive effects of mindfulness meditation and are partnering with Headspace. Most recently, Harvard’s Undergraduate Council voted to partner with Headspace as a means to provide additional mental health resources to students.  

Headspace is a tool that offers law students the ability to proactively learn to cope with stress or anxiety before it becomes detrimental to their well-being. Prior to assuming the role of LSSO president, Ocean Enbar led the introduction of Headspace as a pilot wellness initiative for common law students at the University of Ottawa. A subsequent survey of the participating law students highlighted the success of the program and the value that Headspace offers around stressful periods like exam and recruitment seasons.

With the LSSO’s membership encompassing all eight Ontario law student societies, the organization is well positioned to be able to facilitate the provision of these innovative wellness tools to law students across the entire province. Once launched, interested law students will be able to obtain a yearlong subscription to Headspace, either for free or for a nominal sum, depending on the financial approach adopted by their law student society. As the eight law student societies vary in size and financial means, each will have the flexibility to determine how to finance the wellness tools. Law students governed by student societies unable to partake in the initiative will be able to obtain a subscription directly from the LSSO. At the end of the academic year, utilization rates, along with survey data, will be assessed to evaluate the initiative’s success across the province.

Ultimately, the LSSO is confident that this Headspace initiative will fill the gap that traditional mental health services are unable to and provide participants with the tools to better cope with the stresses of law school in the face of the pandemic. Students looking to stay up to date on the LSSO’s activities, announcements and initiatives are encouraged to join their mailing list, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Ocean Enbar is the president of the Law Students’ Society of Ontario and a 3L English common law student at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law. Monica Santos is a 2L student at York University, Osgoode Hall Law School. She acts as vice-president internal of the Law Students’ Society of Ontario.

Illustration by Chris Yates/Law360

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