In my previous post, I tried to show that the legal system, particularly the adversarial system we follow in India, privileges logic, reason, evidence and so on in the pursuit of the truth.
This means that law schools and law offices end up being places with little space for feelings, emotions and subjectivity.
In other words, law students and lawyers end up experiencing a split between their mind and body. We are not alone in this, however we certainly look stressed out and run the risk of stressing our friends and neighbours out with what can become an innate combativeness.
This post is meant to tell the story of what I and two brilliant, inspiring law students tried to come up with as a solution to the mental health crisis on their campuses.
It began with a cool legal recruitment firm that gave me a budget to design a peer-listening program for law schools. I’m all about preventive mental healthcare, and co-creation of ‘interventions’ in communities that I don’t belong to.
That’s where these students came in. We sat down for two hours as they drew maps of their campuses and talked about the spaces that they had to chill in, the communities that were flourishing, the amount of stress they experienced and how caste, gender, sexual orientation, class, region etc made law school especially tough for some people.
When it came to articulating the design challenge, they said they wanted to build a ‘culture of empathy’ on their campuses.
So we realized that our work is not merely to fire-fight mental illness by working with people who have already been diagnosed. But rather to encourage everyday empathy and work on campus culture to make it okay to take a break, not participate in every last CV building activity, and be able to support each other before the stress/anxiety/depression takes over.
How did we begin this journey?
Being as cultivating empathy is an abstract idea, we decided to start with a workshop on listening skills. And rather than open it to the college, or get nominated students to attend, we decided to have students apply.
We got five applications, five beautiful applications that further validated my experience of law school and gave me a lot of strength, hope and energy.
Then a colleague conducted a four hour workshop with them over two days. I chose not to sit in the workshop because I was afraid of taking over the proceedings with my own excitement. But the faces of all 6 of these people when they emerged at the end of the first day were so beautiful to behold.
They were smiling, looked rested, and seemed quietly happy. And they gave my colleague killer feedback.
Since then the challenge has been to find a way for the administration to carve out a budget for this work. It understandably might seem like a radical approach to law school administrations; but since students are leading and I’m clear that my role is to support them with material and organizing the workshops they want — I am confident that we will be able to keep this going.
Next year I will organize the same pilot workshop at a different law school, and hopefully we’ll have some students there too who want to take ownership of this.
With this second pilot workshop, the budget I got from the legal recruitment firm will be exhausted. And so continued work in law schools will depend on the administrations involved.
Aqseer is a psychotherapist and the founder of a peer support initiative called Aaina Therapy based out of Delhi/NCR, and runs a free mental health chat room. This post was first published by the author, here.