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One out of every four law students at the University of Copenhagen has experienced stress to such an extent that they have had to seek medical help. It is our common responsibility to solve the problems, writes a student
The latest student assessment survey among law students at the University of Copenhagen shows that 41.4 per cent of students experience stress symptoms such as palpitations, stomach aches, depression, difficulty concentrating etc. in connection with their education.
This figure increases to 75.7 per cent for the exam period. Moreover, the figures show that 25 per cent of law students have experienced stress to such an extent that they have sought medical help.
Many others have authored similar investigations, and even academic theses point in the same direction. In a similar survey by the law firm Bech Bruun, approximately every tenth law student made use of performance-enhancing drugs.
As a law student and member of the Board of Studies for the law master’s degrees, I look at these numbers as nothing less than disastrous.
To my knowledge there has been no study of depression among law students in Denmark. But if you look at US data, studies of more than 3,000 law students from 15 different American universities show that 18 per cent of respondents were diagnosed with depression during their study.
Of course there will be differences between law school in Denmark and in the United States. But it is remarkable that stress and depression are a particular problem for university students studying law.
The Danish law students at the University of Copenhagen point to two factors as decisive in relation to stress: Pressure to get the right work experiences and skills on your CV (79 per cent) and fierce competition within the study programme to get the best results (69 per cent). A thesis written by a university student from Roskilde University on the Copenhagen law student stress trend includes the following conclusion: “The consequence is a study culture that is a catalyst for stress.”
As a new and aspiring law student, I remember an incident during intro week that I will never forget. A representative from the company we visited was asked:
“What do you emphasize when you employ law graduates?”. The representative replied, “grades, grades and grades.”
When the representative was asked why he only emphasized grades, the law students got the following response: “If you get low grades, you are either stupid or lazy. Then I can’t employ you for anything.”
No wonder law students feel stressed out when they the first day are told that one or two bad exams will devastate their future careers. We need an attitude change among employers of law graduates to address this problem. But part of the stress problem is also due to internal competition within the study programme.
The law programme is a wide area of study, which attracts different types of people. Students come to the programme from different backgrounds. Some come from strong academic backgrounds, with a large prior network within the legal world, others come from more lower-class neighbourhoods where the term ‘networking’ is unknown. We must also remember that some students are more prone to stress and depression than others, including people who do not feel like they are a part of any social network, are already ill, come from socially deprived areas, and so forth.
When I first ran for the Board of Studies and entered student politics, I had the hope that law students’ psycho-social well-being could be improved.
Despite some improvements, the figures show that we are still not where we should be when it comes to stress and well-being.
I have no doubt that management initiatives and the study boards’ focus on well-being, the move from the city to the South Campus, and the use of study groups, are steps towards a better psycho-social study environment. But there is also a need for us law students to make an effort.
A good study environment is a shared responsibility, and we must all make an effort to uphold it. As a study programme we have failed for every student who feels stressed and who has sought medical care.
We can come to grips with this problem. But we need to stand together on the solutions. Ask your fellow student group members if they happen to be away for long periods of time. Maybe they need someone to ask about their well-being. Be inclusive. Invite other members of the team with you when you go to the law programme’s Friday bar. It’s the little things that contribute to a good study programme.
That Law is a stressful study programme does not need to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. We can change it, but it requires that we, as students actively contribute.