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Talking about lawyer suicide

Suicide is a sensitive topic – even so, it’s something we should talk about. After cancer and heart disease, suicide is the third most common cause of death among lawyers. Research indicates lawyers are also the "most depressed" of 105 surveyed professions. 

These alarming statistics mean many lawyers will have conversations on the topic of suicide at some point in their career. That’s why when we do discuss suicide, it’s important to do so correctly. In this series of articles, we feature guidelines shared by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); The National Suicide Prevention Hotline; and Reporting on Suicide that can be a helpful place to start.  

If someone tells you they are thinking about suicide 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline notes that providing support services, talking about suicide, reducing access to means of self-harm, and following up with loved ones can all help others. First and foremost, if you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there are a few ways to best approach a suicide crisis:  

  •  Express support and concern. 

  • Don’t argue, threaten, or raise your voice. 

  • Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong. 

  • If you’re nervous, try not to fidget or pace. 

  • Be patient. 

  • Talk openly and honestly. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like: “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?” 

  • If there are multiple people around, have one person speak at a time. 

If an individual’s suicidal ideations are recurring but not an immediate threat, let them know you are available to talk or, if that’s not possible, direct them to a mental health professional or other resource.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline suggests the following tips:   

  • Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings. 

  • Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life. 

  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support. 

  • Don’t dare him or her to do it. 

  • Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you. 

  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support. 

  • Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance. 

  • Get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

If you’re concerned about someone 

It can be nerve-wrecking to bring up suicide, but all concerns should be taken seriously. NAMI notes that early thoughts about suicide might sound small, like someone saying, “I wish I wasn’t here” or “Nothing matters.” Other warning signs include: 

  • Increased alcohol and drug use 

  • Aggressive behavior 

  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and community 

  • Dramatic mood swings 

  • Impulsive or reckless behavior

Risk factors for suicide, according to NAMI and The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, include: 

  • A family history of suicide. 

  • Substance use. Drugs can create mental highs and lows that worsen suicidal thoughts. 

  • Intoxication. More than one-in-three people who die from suicide are under the influence of alcohol at the time of death. 

  • Access to firearms. 

  • A serious or chronic medical illness. 

  • Gender. Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly four times more likely to die by suicide. 

  • A history of trauma or abuse. 

  • Prolonged stress. 

  • A recent tragedy or loss, including a relationship or job. 

  • Stigma associated with asking for help. 

  • Local clusters of suicide or exposure to others who have died by suicide.

If these risks and factors line up and validate your concerns, don’t hesitate to call a professional for help or speak up. And remember:  contrary to common belief, talking about suicide will not lead to or encourage suicide. Per NAMI, Talking about suicide not only reduces the stigma, but also allows individuals to seek help, rethink their opinions, and share their story with others. 

If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, there is help. In an immediate emergency, call 911.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255. 

Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential. 

All Missouri Bar members have unlimited, 24/7 access by phone to a licensed clinical social worker and part-time access to a licensed professional counselor. Services may be accessed by calling 1-800-688-7859. MOLAP also makes referrals to professional resources as indicated. 

The Missouri Bar recently introduced the Lawyers Living Well Special Committee, which focuses on advocating for and improving lawyer well-being. To learn more and join the conversation, connect with the Lawyers Living Well Community or search for content using #MOLawyersLivingWell.