It seems that at least once a month I read about a lawyer dying by suicide. Tragic but unfortunately, not-surprising in a profession that is 3rdth ranked in terms of suicide (out of professions adjusted by age). I may see it on Facebook, Twitter or a news article. It is rare that suicide is specifically mentioned, but there may a request to in lieu of flowers for a donation to a mental health organization or and there will be commentary about the person’s struggle with depression, substances or both.
We just can’t bring ourselves to say the word. We make the donation. Grieve for our friend or colleagues. Maybe we tweet out or Facebook post a suicide crisis line. We talk about reaching out. Then we lose another. And another.
Of course, whether its depression, addiction or any other mental health/environmental variable that plays into these issues, the hard reality is that we can love, monitor and even intervene if everything comes together at the right moment as it fortunately did when my friend and brothers saved my life. We, however, can’t be there every moment and those tragic and life changing/ending thoughts can come quickly, without warning.
What to do? Not only about our profession but against the backdrop of overall suicide rates that have risen twenty-eight percent over the last twenty years. According to the study, middle age adults are at the highest risk.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic cure for what ails the human condition and I don’t see that solution, if there is one, happening in my lifetime. I, however, do believe that we, as a profession and society can do little thing that can have a huge impact whether it’s a struggle with depression, anxiety, addiction or the next crisis we will face, supporting our baby-boomer legal colleagues for whom aging has taken a toll on mental acuity.
Action must begin at the most basic human level. We can look within ourselves and pledge to pay attention. To not mind our own business. Here is a simple method I use to engage when I suspect someone is struggling even if I have no idea what the issue may be.
“(Frist Name) you looked stressed today, everything ok? Anything I can do to help?”
Possible response “Appreciate it, I’m fine, thanks for asking.”
Don’t walk away!
Repeat the message.
“Glad to hear that, but I want you to know that if you want to talk, I am a good ear” (or something like that).
What you have done is providing a message that could get someone thinking about getting help and with the quick repeat message, you have reinforced it and provided a window for the person to change, his/her mind.
In those few seconds, people do change their minds. The tap on the shoulder comes, as you walk away.
“Now that you mention it, can we talk?”
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and National Recovery Month. Pledge this month to ask someone how they are doing let them know you are there for an ear. When you see how easy it is, think about doing it again, and again. It costs nothing but some time. Those few seconds can change the course of a life. The benefits can last a lifetime.
Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.