Inaugural Wellness Week at SMU Dedman School of Law

The ABA Law Student Division selected March 28 as the official National Mental Health Day at law schools across the country and encouraged schools to sponsor educational programs and events.   

To observe the event, SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas designated the last week of March as Wellness Week at the school and put together a series of events to help students maintain a balanced life and cope with law school stressors in a healthy way. 

Steve Yeager, the dean of students at SMU Dedman Law, said the school devoted an entire week to the subject because “it is incredibly important and relevant to our student body.  Law students are notoriously known for living ‘unbalanced lives.’”  According to Yeager, “Law school is known for late nights, high doses or caffeine, and locking yourself way in the library for a month to study for exams.  Just like other 20-somethings, law students also deal with a host of common mental health issues like anxiety and depression.”

“My goal for the week was to create an open dialogue about wellness and mental health to help our students become more successful students and ultimately legal professionals.”

“We also wanted to help break some of the stigma associated with severe depression and anxiety among law students.  Many law students hear that mild depression and anxiety can prevent them from passing the character and fitness exam for the Texas bar exam.  This is not correct and can have the unfortunate effect of deterring students who really need psychological counseling and treatment from seeking help.”

Here are the events and programs sponsored during Wellness Week:

It’s Okay to Ask for Help:  We began the week with an information campaign seeking to dispel the myth about mild depression and anxiety preventing students from being able to sit for the bar.  Called “It’s Okay to Ask for Help,” the campaign included posters with the actual mental health question the Texas board of law examiners asks and resources for those who might need help.
The Addicted Lawyer:
  Brian Cuban, the younger brother of Dallas Mavericks owner and entrepreneur Mark Cuban, is a Dallas based attorney, author and addiction recovery advocate.  He spoke about his experiences with mental health issues, both as a law student at the University Of Pittsburgh and practicing attorney in Dallas Texas for over twenty years. Brian discussed his recovery, redefining his career as well as restoring family and passion for life.

img alt="" src="/-/media/Site/Law/news/2018/Brian-Cuban-1.jpg?la=en" width="401" height="301" />

(Brian Cuban (center) with executive officers of the Student Bar Association)

This Wasn’t What We Agreed To: Remedies for a Brain in Breach:  Kelly Rentzel and Ann Marie Cowdrey are SMU Dedman School of Law alums, successful attorneys, and friends who are passionate about mental health.  Ann Marie and Kelly combined forces to lead students in an open discussion on mental illness.
(Ann Marie Cowdrey, partner at Thompson & Knight, joined by
Kelly Rentzel, beneral counsel of Texas Capital Bank)

Be Kind to Yourself:  Another SMU Dedman Law alum and in-house attorney, Betty Ungerman taught students about the importance of exercising self-compassion and encouraged them to go easier on themselves. 
(Betty Ungerman, deputy general counsel and CCO at Lennox International)

Tips for Optimizing Your Brain Function and Improving Mental Health:  SMU Dedman School of Law alum and editor of How to Feed a Brain, Elisabeth A. Wilson, shared some easy (and non-prescription) ways students can achieve optimal brain health through nutrition, mindfulness, and meditation.

(Elisabeth A. Wilson, SMU Alum and editor of "How to Feed a Brain")
Color Me Calm:  As a fun way to wrap up the successful week, the Student Bar Association provided mandalas (ancient Indian Sanskrit for circle) and other therapeutic designs for students to color.  Research has shown that coloring forces the mind to focus on the task at hand – which doesn’t leave room for it to focus on stress. 
(Sam Gaiss and Bryan Kelly coloring)