Please note that this post discusses suicide and its impact on survivors. Some individuals may find these topics distressing and triggering. If you need help, please see the resources listed at the end of this post.
In my 40+ years working career, I have had three colleagues – friends really – decided they could no longer bear this earthly world and took themselves out of it. It is always a shock. I never see it coming, and it hurts.
There has been a recent uptick in articles about lawyer suicides – I have seen several in just the past month or so. All of them discuss the need to talk about suicide and talk about what leads to suicide in the legal profession. Stress, anxiety, over-achievement, fear of failure are all things that we struggle with, and mostly struggle alone. That needs to change if we are going to prevent any more of these untimely deaths.
Why did they do it? Could I or we have done anything to prevent this loss of a soul? Did we miss the signs? Were there any signs? Was this their only solution? Why didn’t they ask for help? Sometimes there aren’t answers, but just maybe if we talk openly about suicide and its causes, and really talk and listen to each other it won’t happen so often.
First Suicide. The first time it happened, it was sudden, and everyone talked about it. I got a middle of the night call as the friend I was vacationing with was their roommate. Thankfully she – and I – had a close-knit community around us, who were all suffering, and who all sought support, and mostly healthy ways to cope, and continue to do so.
Her comment, “Time to be open about our struggles and willingness to be vulnerable” has stuck with me as I reflect on the most recent loss of a friend. We must keep talking about these deaths – why they happened, and what we can do to prevent them.
Second Suicide. The second time it struck my life, again everyone talked about it. How did we miss the signs – why didn’t she ask for help? But we all came together in our grief and sorrow and sought ways to heal. That conversation is also still ongoing.
Third Suicide. The third time it happened, no one said that word, and no one is really talking about it. It was just a ‘sudden and tragic loss.’ They were just gone – from one day to the next – when we all expected to see them the next day, had plans for meetings and projects. No one is having a direct and specific conversation about this loss. I understand that this is traumatic for the immediate family, it’s traumatic for the coworkers too. But burying our heads in the sand will cause more trauma, not less.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, both South Carolina and Arizona (my 2 “home” states) have suicide rates above the national average1.
This statistic about lawyer suicide rates is even more shocking, “Prior estimates suggest that between 10 and 12 percent of lawyers in the U.S. have contemplated suicide, compared to 4.2% of adults 18 years of age in the U.S. population.2”
I hate that these statistics exist, and that I am living them. Not all my friends that committed suicide were lawyers, one was, the other two were a police officer and a victim advocate, so in the same justice system.
Two weeks ago I walked in the local Campus Walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, raising over $400 for the cause from friends and co-workers. It was a small walk, but a step in the right direction in this community that does not seem to want to talk about suicide openly.
As law school librarians, teachers, and lawyers, we are doing a disservice to our students if we are not preparing them for this stressful, sometimes lonely, profession. Suicide prevention requires a comprehensive approach and takes multiple strategies3.
Strategies that we need to be giving our law students now, not when the sh*! hits the fan and they are in crisis.
We have access to these resources, and we must be open to discussing them and we must use them. The COVID pandemic and the ensuing isolation did not help our connectedness and our communities in many ways, but maybe it helped us to make more conscious efforts to stay connected to our communities.
We need to do better! De-stigmatize the use of mental health services, particularly for those of us that fall into the higher risk categories. Make mental health a topic of daily conversation – how is everyone doing, what can we do here at work to make it ‘better’? Allow for mental health days using our sick leave. Many of us leave jobs with huge banks of time-off that never gets used, and for which we are not paid. So, use your sick leave to take care of your health – physical and mental.
I ask that you heed these very important reminders, as will I,
- love unconditionally and with your entire heart
- treat everyone with kindness.
- live every day with no regrets.
- take chances!
- ask for help… friends and family are there for you no matter what you are going through.
I want to see you at the next AALL conference, webinar, or in the hallway! Libraries are and should be safe places, as should be the legal profession.
Resources – Help is available!
- 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline – 24/7, call or text.
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center https://sprc.org/
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention https://afsp.org/
- National Institute of Mental Health – Suicide Prevention https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Suicide Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/suicide/resources/index.html
1. https://afsp.org/suicide-statistics/ (accessed 4.7.2023)
2. Krill, P.R.; Thomas, H.M.; Kramer, M.R.; Degeneffe, N.; Anker, J.J. Stressed, Lonely, and Overcommitted: Predictors of Lawyer Suicide Risk. Healthcare 2023, 11, 536. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare11040536
3. Suicide Prevention Resource Center / https://sprc.org/effective-prevention/comprehensive-approach (accessed 4.7.2023)
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.