Work/Life Balance

How Lawyers Can Help Depressed Colleagues

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Lawyers who are concerned about colleagues at work who seem depressed should be aware of some of the warning signs of suicide.

It only takes one person to make a difference in another’s life, and lawyers may be in a unique position to help friends or colleagues in a mental health crisis, according to Ann Foster, a lawyer who is director of the State Bar of Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program. She writes about the suicide warning signs in an article for Texas Lawyer.

Most suicidal people provide some clues to their mental state, Foster says. A person verbalizing his or her feelings might simply say, “I’m going to kill myself,” or may be more indirect, telling others, “I don’t think it’s worth going on anymore.”

The clues may also be nonverbal. “Listen for expressions of anxiety, feeling trapped, purposelessness, hopelessness and anger,” Foster writes. “Other warning signs may include increased isolation, recklessness, exhausted appearance, deteriorating hygiene, missing work and decreased productivity at work.”

If you are concerned about a colleague or friend, ask questions and listen. You can ask, “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?” Talking through feelings may help reduce anxiety and stress, and can provide an indication of a will to live. “Lawyers know how to ask artful questions, listen carefully and suggest solutions,” Foster says. “We are perfectly capable of having these kinds of conversations.”

If you remain concerned, don’t keep your colleague’s mental state a secret, Foster says. You can help your friend or colleague find a mental health professional, you can call 911, or you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

More information is available through a suicide prevention course called QPR, for “question, persuade and refer,” that is available online.

Related coverage: “Perfectionism, ‘Psychic Battering’ Among Reasons for Lawyer Depression”

ABA Journal: “A Death in the Office”

ABA Journal: “The Less Final Option”

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