How Albany Law’s Wellness Initiative is Shifting the Conversation on Mental Health
There is no doubt that law school brings a new set of challenges as students navigate legal coursework, heightened expectations, and the Socratic method. Learning to be an effective professional in the law also involves developing skills and practices to stay healthy—mentally, physically, and emotionally—and finding successful strategies to cope with stress.
As May honors Mental Health Awareness Month, and with self-care top-of-mind for many as the world navigates the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re showcasing how Albany Law School supports holistic health—now and always.
The Wellness Initiative at Albany Law School provides multiple resources for the law school community to make health a priority, with programs for all to learn, unwind, and support one another. Since students can’t be on campus right now due to the pandemic, current Colby Fellows Carly Dziekan ’20 and Olivia Cox ’21 are finding ways to bring wellness events to the Albany Law community virtually.
“Students are experiencing a lot more challenges with their mental health now, possibly more than we were on the law school’s campus,” Dziekan said. “Our environment has changed. Everything has really changed.”
The students’ Rise in Wellness blog has become a go-to place for resources and a way to spread the word about upcoming events. As the law school community has moved to a virtual format, the blog has also become a hub for tips on staying well while practicing social distancing.
Dziekan and Cox are also organizing virtual workout classes and seminars with the school’s counselor, Dr. Peter Cornish, who is also available for virtual sessions. The blog is welcome to all contributors and ideas are always welcome.
In 2018, the Wellness Initiative was created through a gift from Albany Law School Trustee Andrea Colby ’80 to dedicate resources to support law students and their health as they earn their degrees. An additional gift from James Kelly ’83 bolsters the efforts. So far, the initiative has brought educational programming related to mental, physical, social, financial, and academic health to the community on campus and, now, at home.
A New Perspective
The Wellness Initiative has contributed to a culture shift. Sweeping stress under the rug—leading to burnout—is becoming a thing of the past. Instead, students are more mindful and asking for help when it is needed.
“It is normal to feel more anxious or stressed in law school. There are people here to help you. The most important part of law school is reaching out when you need help,” Dziekan said. “That’s one of the goals of the Wellness Initiative: showing students that you are not alone, that there are people within and outside of the organization to help and it is normal to experience these changes.”
Dziekan and Cox have brought in guest speakers who have offered similar insights. In February, Brian Cuban—younger brother of Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank star Mark Cuban—came to campus to discuss his book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales of the Bar, Booze, Blow, and Redemption. Cuban reflected on how addiction derailed his legal career and offered advice to current students, stressing the importance of checking in with friends and classmates.
“At the law school, more and more, people are discussing mental health. It’s not treated so lightly anymore, people aren’t joking about it so much. It’s definitely taken more seriously,” Cox said. “I see students having conversations with each other—checking in—that’s a huge piece of mental health. Students have strategies to help each other.”
Developing Lifetime Habits
Shifting the conversation on wellness is also an important piece in teaching future generations of legal professionals to avoid burnout and find balance.
“Our students are much more mindful of their mental health. We’re looking forward to continuing to offer programming that will encourage making wellness a priority for the entire law school community,” said Associate Dean for Student Affairs Rosemary Queenan, who oversees the Wellness Initiative. While healthy hobbies—like kickboxing for Dziekan and playing the cello for Cox—are fantastic stress relivers, they are not a substitute for speaking with a therapist or getting professional mental health treatment. But by sparking ongoing conversations and offering resources and events, the Wellness Initiative at Albany Law School is making it easier to find help.
“Sometimes—from an outside perspective—people think we’re trying to make law school easier [academically],” Dziekan said. “That’s not what it is at all. It’s about providing resources to succeed in law school. Law school is always going to be difficult—we want to provide as much support as we can.”