Schooling the Blues? An Investigation of Factors Associated with Psychological Distress Among Law Students

34 Pages Posted: 31 May 2014 Last revised: 18 Jun 2014

See all articles by Wendy Larcombe

Wendy Larcombe

University of Melbourne - Law School

Katherine Fethers

Independent

Date Written: May 29, 2014

Abstract

There is now a growing body of empirical evidence confirming that lawyers and law students in Australia, as in the United States (‘US’), experience levels of psychological distress significantly higher than members of the general population and other professions. The landmark 2009 study by the Brain and Mind Research Institute (‘BMRI’), published as ‘Courting the Blues’, was not the first Australian study to investigate this issue, but it was perhaps the first to be heard as an alarm bell by legal professional bodies and law schools. The BMRI study reported that, on an internationally recognised measure, 31 per cent of solicitors, 17 per cent of barristers and 35 per cent of law students recorded elevated levels of psychological distress compared with 13 per cent of the general population. Subsequent studies with law students at the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne have produced very similar findings: both studies report that approximately 30 per cent of participating law students recorded elevated anxiety symptoms and a similar proportion recorded elevated depressive symptoms, compared with 13 per cent of the general population. The article is organised as follows. Part II outlines the available empirical research and explanations of law student distress that informed the present research and Part III details the methods used in the 2012 study conducted at MLS. Results on levels of psychological distress (Part IV) and the few associated demographic factors (Part V) are then reported. Parts VI-VIII report the results of tests investigating associations between the non-demographic variables in the study (participant- and course-related factors) and elevated depressive, anxiety and stress symptoms, respectively. Finally, we discuss the implications of these findings for the planning of mental health initiatives in law schools and offer suggestions for further research (Part IX).

Keywords: psychological distress, law students

JEL Classification: K00, K39

Suggested Citation

Larcombe, Wendy and Fethers, Katherine, Schooling the Blues? An Investigation of Factors Associated with Psychological Distress Among Law Students (May 29, 2014). University of New South Wales Law Journal, Vol. 36, No. 2, 2013, U of Melbourne Legal Studies Research Paper No. 685, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2443648

Wendy Larcombe (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne - Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010
Australia

Katherine Fethers

Independent ( email )

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