This GNLU student is helping others overcome stress, loneliness in law school

Default admin language (currently English) October 19 2016

As the tragic suicide of Sushant Rohilla brought out only all too well, law students are under an increasing amount of stress. Be it competitive moots, a packed academic schedule, high fees, or even finding employment, today's law students face a significant amount of mental and emotional strain.

Chethana Venkataraghavan

Chethana Venkataraghavan

Chethana Venkataraghavan, a final-year student at Gujarat National Law University, is trying to change things, one student at a time.

With exams currently taking place at GNLU, she has set up an e-mail account examofsmile@gmail.com ("the third choice after frown2smile and lawsucksbutlifedoesnt").

Students are free to e-mail their problems to Chethana, with the assurance that complete confidentiality shall be maintained.

Just under a year ago, Chethana could well have been sending an e-mail herself. She had not gotten a law firm PPO, and was simultaneously preparing for an "intense moot". Used to penning her thoughts when the going gets hard, this is what she wrote:

"It’s a little like worrying about your dip getting over when there are around 20 nachos to finish while at the same time knowing that you’re eating them at the café below your office where you got fired from an hour back.”

She came across those very lines a few days ago, and found herself asking,

“How did I get out of that horrible place?”

Describing the law school experience, Chethana says,

"I think being in law school takes a lot out of you, and it is nearly impossible to remain happy all the time...I initially wanted to sit in the mess for a few hours daily and invite people to come talk to me if they wanted.

However, I realized that the internet and social media has made us distant; people do not want to be seen voicing their problems. While you can see that as a problem, it is also the solution. People find it easier to open up through messages and mails, and that’s what is happening here.

My moot went quite well and I am placed in another law firm, but I don’t think I can forget that those rough months in between. My friends and family helped me get through it, and I don’t know what I would have done without them."

Amba Salekar

Amba Salelkar

Chethana is certainly not the first to voice such concerns. Amba Salelkar, a former criminal lawyer, recounted her own battles with mental health issues as a law student.

“During law school, I was affected by recurring mental health issues, which wasn’t something I could really address back then. It’s complicated, because it takes some time to come to terms with it yourself.”

At GNLU, some of the more common concerns raised by her fellow students are a need to vent, as well as missing family. At other times, things can get quite tricky; some students suffer from depression.

In such cases, Chethana asks them to seek professional help.

"I tell them to visit a counsellor as what I am doing in no way compensates for medical advice. I am just trying to help them through ten days of end semester exams, because I feel that in a place as competitive and intense as law school, even one nice mail from a person can make it a brighter and happier place."

In fact, GNLU does have an on campus counsellor, and Chethana says that the student bodies have made efforts to raise awareness about mental well-being. However, it is not an easy problem to solve, especially given public perceptions of counselling.

"As lawyers, we talk about mental health and we know it is rational to consider it as serious as physical illness. However, we don’t implement it in practice because there is still something that holds us back from taking professional help.

There is also something else I find rampant in law schools across the country – people assume that their identities revolve around being good lawyers. I think every law student should understand that they are more than a professional."

Aqseer Tara

Aqseer Tara

Law graduate Aqseer Tara knows this only two well. In 2015, she started she started MirrorWork’s, an organisation that offers “listening services”, with prices that start from rupees twenty.

There is a specific reason why Tara chose to label it as a "listening service".

"The words “therapy” and “counselling” meet with a lot of resistance. I think they make people feel like there’s something wrong with them or that some stranger is going to start dictating to them what their life should look like."

As for Chethana and the examofsmile project, she says that she is not sure if it will turn into a long-term project. For now, she simply wants to help students get through the end-semester examinations.