We in the legal profession are at a greater risk for suicide than those in the general population. Scientific studies — most notably the Johns Hopkins study that compared the prevalence of depression in more than 100 professions— have established that lawyers and judges suffer depression at rates up to three times that of the general population. We suffer alcoholism and addiction at rates up to twice the general population. When depression and substance abuse are more prevalent, so is the risk of suicide.
Suicides continue to take place within our legal profession here in Louisiana. As one would both compassionately expect and solemnly respect, most cases are not publicized and the most intimate facts and circumstances leading up to suicide deaths often remain untold. Against the backdrop of suicide statistics alone, it is easy for many of us to convince ourselves that the problem, as frightening as it may be, simply will not impact us personally.
All the while, the truth is that no one is immune to depression, alcoholism, addiction or other mental disorders that can lead to suicide. We can’t predict who will be beset with these diseases any more than one can conclusively predict the incidence of cancer or diabetes.
What we can do, however, is better arm ourselves with knowledge to help fight suicide in our profession. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website lists both risk factors and warning signs.
Suicide Risk Factors that particularly affect lawyers and judges include mood disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders; alcohol and substance disorders; hopelessness; aggressive tendencies; job or financial loss; loss of relationship; lack of social support and sense of isolation; and the stigma associated with asking for help.
Suicide Warning Signs include thinking or talking about things such as wanting to die; feelings of hopelessness or having no reason to live; feelings of being trapped or in unbearable pain; and being a burden to others. Also, beware of behavior that includes increased use of alcohol or drugs; being anxious, agitated or reckless; sleeping too little or too much; withdrawing or isolating from others; showing rage or talking about seeking revenge; or displaying extreme mood swings.
Do not hesitate to place a confidential call to the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program to obtain information about reaching out to someone who may be in trouble or to obtain assistance yourself. All calls to JLAP are confidential as a matter of law and you do not have to give your name.
Louisiana Bar Journal Articles:
December 2012/January 2013 – Suicide in the Legal Profession
Read more LSBA articles >>
Video – Delaware LAP-Why Are Lawyers Killing Themselves?