by Jeanne Marie Leslie
Suicide is one of the most preventable forms of death. In the United States, more people die each
year by suicide than by homicide. It is
the eleventh leading cause of death and the fourth leading cause of death in
individuals between the ages of 24 to 44 years of age (“Suicide Facts at a
Glance,” Center for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/Suicide_DataSheet-a.pdf). Every seventeen minutes someone in America
takes their life. The reality is that
most of us have been touched by suicide or know someone who has been touched by
In the book The
Suicide Lawyers: Exposing Lethal Secrets
by C.C. Risenhoover (Ashland, Ohio:
Simpson PC, 2004), lawyers Skip Simpson and Michael Stacy passionately
discuss their commitment to suicide prevention.
Their law firm deals almost exclusively with the victims of
suicide. Their insight is profound and
their message is poignant. Suicide is
preventable and suicide education needs to be a priority for everyone. The inability of our health-care systems to
consistently provide proper assessment, proper diagnosis, and proper treatment
for suicidal individuals and their families; the ignorance about suicide; as
well as the myths surrounding suicide all contribute to the alarming number of
needless deaths by suicide in America (Risenhoover 144.)
Most people find it a difficult subject to discuss. However, by discussing suicide and bringing
it into the light so to speak, lives can be saved. Suicide and suicidal behavior are not usually
a result of stress to difficult life events.
These are risk factors. Ninety
percent of individuals who become suicidal or die from suicide have depression
or other mental disorders are involved (National Institute for Mental Health). Karl A. Menninger once said hope is a
necessity for normal life and the major weapon against the suicide
impulse. Suicide victims don’t
necessarily want to die, they often leave many clues prior to committing
suicide. They want relief for their pain
and they feel hopeless that there is no other solution. (“Hopelessness: A Dangerous Suicide Warning Sign,”www.suicide.org/hopelessness-a-dangerous-warning-sign.html.)
Dr. Edwin Shneidman in The
Suicidal Mind asserts that almost all suicides have two common factors,
psychological pain coupled with lethality, which measure the degree or
likelihood of suicide (Oxford University Press, 1996, 7). Shneidman discusses the subject at length in
his book, in which he addresses the phenomena of suicide as it plays out in the
minds of suicidal people (Schneidman vii).
According to Shneidman, the key to understanding suicide is looking at
the intense psychological pain, and how “that idea ‘I can stop this pain: I can
kill myself’ is the unique essence of suicide”
If this is true, every time a help call is answered at a
lawyer assistance program (LAP) for an addiction, depression, or other type of
mental health issues, the potential lethality of the caller is reduced by the
act of asking for help, and when that lawyer actually participates in some form
of therapy, the psychological pain is reduced as well. While it is impossible to measure the number
of suicides avoided, there can be little doubt the LAPs save lives by assisting
lawyers before problems reach crisis level.
Suicide affects all aspects of society, but because lawyers
are competitive by nature, they thrive in pessimistic environments, working
long hours in high-stress situations. It
should come as no surprise that the legal profession faces disproportionate
problems of addiction, depression, and suicide (Heather Fiske, “Suicide,” GPSolo Magazine, Oct. /Nov. 2004).
LAPs often receive calls from lawyers seriously considering
suicide. LAPs are in unique positions to
address these calls because LAPs are familiar with the unique personalities of
lawyers and LAPs utilize trained peers to help others in need. Many of the issues that make it difficult for
individuals to receive proper care as discussed above are addressed in
LAPs. Lawyers calling for help are also
introduced to other lawyers who have had some of the same problems. Support systems are established and
relationships are made. Most established
LAPs also are involved with clients for several years, ensuring continuity in
services as well as accountability in behavior.
Bar associations and LAPs across the country are taking
suicide prevention seriously, offering programs to assist members in
identifying signs and symptoms of suicidal behaviors in the clients they are
working with as well as identifying colleagues in need.
Suicide is an issue that affects all of us. We all need to be cognizant of suicide signs
and symptoms and do what we can to dispute the myths surrounding suicide. Lawyers are more vulnerable to suicide by the
nature of their work. However, lawyers
find unique resources in LAPs. In
closing, while writing this article I received a call from a lawyer in
despair. It is such a privilege to do
this work and to help when the call comes in. I know that people who have the opportunity to touch lives in the manner
in which volunteers and LAPs are able to do will understand clearly what Dr.
Edwin S. Shneidman says are the two most important questions to a potentially
suicidal person: “Where do you hurt?”
and “How can I help you?” (Schneidman 6).
Isn’t this what lawyer assistance is all about?
Jeanne Marie Leslieis the director of the Alabama Lawyer
Assistance Program and a member of the Highlights editorial board.
This article reprinted with permission from Jeanne Marie
Leslie. This article originally appeared
in Highlights of the American Bar
Association Commission of Lawyer Assistance Programs. Vol. 13, No. 3, Fall 2010.
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