School of Law student advocates for mental health services

After her personal battle with anxiety, MU law student Jessica Chinnadurai found a way to help classmates struggling with mental health and substance abuse.
Jessica Chinnadurai is passionate about mental health within the field of law. Chinnadurai, a third-year law student at the University of Missouri, is a student liaison in the Missouri Lawyers Assistance Program.

The previous article stated that Chinnadurai helped create the American Bar Association’s Substance Abuse & Mental Health Toolkit and the Maneater regrets this error.

The previous article stated that Chinnadurai helped create the American Bar Association’s Substance Abuse & Mental Health Toolkit and the Maneater regrets this error.

To her fellow law students, she is the image of confidence and competence.

Third-year law student Jessica Chinnadurai described herself as a “procedural, process-based person” who always knew she wanted to go to law school. A heavily involved student, she serves as associate editor-in-chief of the Missouri Law Review and is a member of both the Student Bar Association and Women’s Law Association.

“She has a very hard-to-pronounce last name, and every time I go to pronounce it, every student jumps in to correct me,” professor Michelle Cecil said. “They all know her.”

During her second year of law school, however, Chinnadurai found herself struggling with anxiety.

“It was anxiety related to doing well and trying to live up to the expectation that I put on myself,” she said. “The amount of work that you have to put in is a lot. It’s almost like an 8-to-8 job. I’m in the law school about 12 hours a day, and I eat all of my meals there.”

As she came to terms with the demands of law school and the pressure to succeed, Chinnadurai realized she was not alone.

“I’ve learned that a lot of people are like that,” she said. “They’ve got a lot going on underneath the surface, and it’s been really enlightening to see the humanity of a law student. I think we’re often looked up to, but also we’re everyday people that need help once in a while.”

Realizing how pervasive the problems of anxiety, depression, burnout and substance abuse were among law students and lawyers led Chinnadurai to look for ways to make change. She joined the law school’s Student-Faculty Relations committee and shared with them the American Bar Association’s Substance Abuse & Mental Health Toolkit.

The toolkit mentions the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program, which provides free and confidential counseling and substance abuse recovery programs to lawyers and law students, and its student liaison position.

As the first MOLAP student liaison in the state, Chinnadurai serves as a link between the program and the MU School of Law. She works to spread the word about MOLAP’s services and encourages students to seek help when they need it.

“The primary purpose is to make sure that people know that they have a resource that they can go to,” Chinnadurai said of the position. “In the legal profession, I think it can be pretty stigmatized, especially because lawyers are the people that others are coming to for help. I think it’s hard for a lot of lawyers to admit that they have those sorts of problems.”

Chinnadurai wants to use her experiences to better serve classmates and increase awareness of mental health issues and the resources available.

“I’ve always been really transparent and open with sharing [about mental health] with people,” she said. “I really hope that that can be a model for other students to feel comfortable.”

Cecil, chair of the Student-Faculty Relations committee, believes Chinnadurai has succeeded in being a model for fellow law students and enacting positive change with regard to mental health.

“She seems to have it all together, so coming from someone who seems to be on top of everything shows students that if she’s involved in [MOLAP], it must be a good program,” Cecil said. “It’s started to become part of the culture of the law school. Jessica has been the face of all of that.”

Outside of her work with MOLAP, Chinnadurai spends time advocating for women in her field through the Women’s Law Association and provides hands-on guidance to clients starting businesses in Columbia with the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic.

Chinnadurai graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in political science. At MU, she has pursued her interests in employment law and intellectual property.

MOLAP will continue its services at MU even after Chinnadurai graduates in May.

“It’s gotten people talking, and I think Jessica is a huge part of that,” Cecil said. “I wish we could fail her this semester and bring her back.”

Edited by Morgan Smith |

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