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Call for mental health course

Briefs

Cite as: March 2015 89 (3) LIJ, p.17

The mental health of law students would benefit from a course in mental wellbeing in the first year of tertiary study, according to Federal Court Justice Shane Marshall.

“Having now had the experience of being a law student, legal practitioner and jurist, I consider that the mental wellbeing of law students would be greatly assisted by the curriculum including a mental wellbeing subject within it,” Justice Marshall said.

“Law students should be actively encouraged to engage in meditation and mindfulness techniques. It would also be of assistance for practitioners, academics and jurists who have battled depression to share their experiences with students,” he said, adding it was vital sufferers know they are not alone.

Justice Marshall, who has revealed he battles depression, gave the keynote speech at the ANU National Wellness for Law forum in February. He spoke on Depression: An issue in the study of law.

The “failure” of current law education methods to safeguard the mental wellbeing of students, he said, had led to suggestions for change. They include meditation and mindfulness in the curriculum, access to psychological assistance, cultural change in legal studies by focusing on law in a social context, encouraging soft skills, focus on legal research and less on exams, and broader engagement with the law and interaction with skills such as personal relationships, resilience and self-awareness.

Justice Marshall cited a 2011 University of Melbourne study which showed evidence many students “considered depression to be part of the price of becoming a lawyer”.

“Depression is a critical issue for law students and young practitioners. It can no longer be treated as a side issue. Active planning to assist students to combat it is a necessity – not an option.”

In 2014, Justice Marshall became an inaugural ambassador for the WATL Foundation – a joint initiative of the Victorian Bar and the LIV designed to combat the effects of depression in the legal profession. At WATL’s launch he spoke about his personal battle with depression in an effort to encourage the profession and law students to seek help if anxious or depressed.

LIV Administrative and Human Rights Section lawyer Laura Helm also presented at the forum, on “Changing Minds: Towards a mindful profession”.

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