Not another suicide. That’s a phrase I have found myself uttering too often. I’ve experienced the anguish and profound sense of loss on two separate occasions following the suicides of friends, both of whom were highly respected and accomplished lawyers.
Since beginning work at the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (TLAP), I’ve learned all too well that those suicides were not anomalies. Rarely a month goes by that we don’t hear of a lawyer somewhere in our state who has taken their own life.
Sunday, Sept. 9, marked the start of Suicide Prevention Week in Texas and nationally, an effort to draw attention to this growing problem and reduce the number of suicides.
Nationally, suicide ranks as the third-leading cause of death among lawyers. Reasons for this distressing statistic include a number of unique characteristics and circumstances experienced by lawyers: a persistent high level of stress, a pessimistic outlook developed through law school and practice, long hours and isolation of daily work, perfectionism and low tolerance for failure or “losing face,” the high stakes nature of our work, and a reluctance to ask for help. Taken together, these traits result in a heightened susceptibility to mental health disorders, substance abuse and suicide.
The State Bar of Texas has developed numerous resources in an effort to address this problem. Most recently, we’ve added a webpage to www.TexasBar.com that’s dedicated to suicide prevention. You can find it here. The page includes resources and tools that are designed to prevent suicides, including “Life Alert: Save a Lawyer,” which was created by TLAP’s Mental Health Initiative Subcommittee. This resource lists warning signs of suicide and has a protocol for having the difficult conversation with a lawyer who you suspect may be considering suicide.
If you’re concerned that someone you know is suicidal, please call 911 or contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you would like more information about this issue, call TLAP at 1-800-343-8527. We are a free, 24/7, confidential service of the State Bar of Texas.
Bree Buchanan, J.D, Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program.