Suicide + Lawyers: Sad Stats – But Have Hope

Published July 29, 2018 on Balancing Lawyers’ Lives FB Group

SUICIDE is personal — it touches everyone at some point:

3 days ago, I read a lawyer friend’s post that her nephew took his life. Last night I heard of another’s suicide attempt. I’ve personally known and heard of so many others, as, likely, have you.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the general population – 94 per day, or
1 every 15 minutes. (ABA website).

LAWYERS + suicide:

-Finis Price III, 37, successful Kentucky lawyer, popular professor, sought after technology consultant, who died by suicide in 2012.
-Ken Jameson, 58, generating $600,000 billing hours per year for his law firm, 3 children and wife who said their relationship was exceptional, after 6 months’ battle with depression, died by suicide in May 2011.
-Family and colleagues were stunned when newly hired Miami prosecutor Beranton J. Whisenant Jr., washed up on Hollywood Beach with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in May 2017. He is remembered for his passion and dedication to public service.
-Ervin Gonzalez, a Coral Gables-based civil trial lawyer who led some of Florida’s most-significant, class-action and personal-injury cases, struggled with depression for years before he was found dead in his home in June 2017. In a statement, his firm remembered him as a “caring, warm, brilliant and masterful trial attorney.”
 
What do they all have in common? Lawyers who seemed, to their loved ones and colleagues, unlikely to take their lives, but did.
 
STAGGERING STATS:
-Suicide: 3rd leading cause of death among lawyers, after cancer and heart disease.
-Lawyers: 4th in highest suicides compared to other professions (Center for Disease Control, 2014).
-11.5% of Lawyers have suicidal thoughts (ABA Journal, 2015).
 
WHY LAWYERS?
Stress/ Depression/ Substance Abuse
 
The job of an attorney has been described as “multidimensional stress.” The stressors attorneys often face include:
• Long hours at work
• Isolation
• Self-generated pressure—a tendency toward perfectionism and a low tolerance for failure
• High-stakes cases
• Exposure to dire life situations
• Dealing with difficult clients
• Pressure to make large sums of money and “keep up with the Joneses”
• A “dog eat dog” work environment
Because of this, attorneys’ jobs leave them in a constant state of crisis. This near-constant level of stress can lead to another serious problem among lawyers: substance abuse.
(Top Three Factors for Lawyer Suicide and What We Can Do To Help, FosterWebMarketing.com)
 
DEPRESSION + SUBSTANCE ABUSE = the top 2 risk factors for suicide
Lawyers are more than 3x more likely to be depressed than others (American Psychological Association), the highest rate of ANY profession (Johns Hopkins study).
Lawyers’ addiction to alcohol and drugs is roughly 2x the general population, and people who struggle with substance abuse are about 6x more likely to die by suicide.
 
“The rampant, multidimensional stress of the profession is certainly a factor. And not surprisingly, there are also some personality traits common among lawyers — self-reliance, ambition, perfectionism and competitiveness — that aren’t always consistent with healthy coping skills and the type of emotional elasticity necessary to endure the unrelenting pressures and unexpected disappointments that a career in the law can bring.” (Why Lawyers Are Prone to Suicide, by Patrick Krill (see all of his works), Jan 21, 2014, CNN.com.)
 
While suicide is not a desirable topic to hear or talk about, it’s REAL; far worse, imagine the pain of those who’ve had thoughts and taken irreversible action on it, and the devastation of the ones they leave behind.
 

HOPE + SUPPORTIVE RESOURCES

 
The National Institute of Mental Health (2011) reports that over 90% of Americans who die by suicide suffer from a TREATABLE mental illness and/or substance disorder.
 
The grave information and reports are staggering and endless. And – the AWARENESS, SKILLS and SUPPORT for WELL-BEING and self-care is becoming more and more available, in leaps and bounds.
 
The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being Report (Appendix B, p. 50) provides Example Educational Topics for Lawyer Well-Being, speaking to inherent problems and specific recommendations around getting support:
8.1 Work Engagement vs. Burnout.
8.2 Stress.
8.3 Resilience & Optimism.
8.4 Mindfulness Meditation.
8.5 Rejuvenation Periods to Recover from Stress.
8.6 Physical Activity.
8.7 Leader Development & Training.
8.8 Control & Autonomy.
8.9 Conflict Management.
8.10 Work-Life Conflict.
8.11 Meaning & Purpose.
8.12 Substance Use and Mental Health Disorders
8.13 Additional Topics.
 
BOTTOM LINE: Suicide affects lawyers (plus their families, clients, the profession as a whole) and so many more, for so many reasons, and – with all HOPE and according to statistics – can be prevented.
 
PROBATIVE QUESTIONS:
Q: Have you been touched by suicide? What impact did that have on your family, friends and you?
Q: Do you struggle with stress? depression? substance use, abuse, dependence? What is keeping you from admitting it or getting help?
Q: What are you doing to de-stress and support balance in your work + life?
Q: How important is your health and well-being, and that of the ones you love or know, to you?
Q: How can I mentor well-being and lead by example, for my kids, family, colleagues?
Q: Who bloom-blossom-flora-60006bloom-blossom-flora-60006can I reach out to for support?
 

You, we, are not alone. There is always help + hope.

 
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
*Or TEXT: 741741

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