Bar Associations

State bar president calls recent lawyer suicides 'disproportionate' and 'disconcerting'

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At least a dozen Kentucky lawyers have committed suicide since 2010, half of them in the last year.

Kentucky Bar Association president Doug Myers knew five of them. He calls the number of lawyer suicides in the state “disproportionate” and “disconcerting,” the Louisville Courier-Journal reports.

The average age of the suicide victims, all men, was 53, the story says. Most were trial lawyers. One was facing medical, family and financial issues. Another represented plaintiffs in priest abuse cases. A third was a former University of Kentucky basketball player.

In a recent issue of the Bench & Bar magazine, Myers asked lawyers to “take on a responsibility for our peers” by referring troubled colleagues to the Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program. A lawyer talking with a depressed colleague should listen nonjudgmentally, ask if the person is suicidal, obtain a commitment that the person won’t take action before talking to them, stay with the person if the plan is immediate, and take the depressed person to a hospital if necessary.

Myers told the Courier-Journal he thinks stress is to blame for lawyer suicides. “You take on the burden of your clients’ problems, then pile them on your own, and it takes a toll,” he told the newspaper.

Lanny Berman, director of the Washington-based American Association of Suicidology, told the Courier-Journal that competitiveness and perfectionism are two traits that put lawyers at risk of depression and suicide, as well as alcohol abuse and drug use. Another issue, he said, may be that lawyers lack fulfillment through law practice.

The recent suicides coincide with a “dramatic spike” in Baby Boomer suicides between 1999 and 2010, reported by the Washington Post. The suicide rate for men in their 50s increased nearly 50 percent to 30 per 100,000, while the rate for women in their early 60s rose by nearly 60 percent to 7 in 100,000, according to statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts who talked to the Post said the economy was a factor. Some also suggested that Baby Boomers may be reluctant to accept the realities of aging, and that their lives may not have lived up to high expectations grounded in stress-free childhoods. The suicide rate for men may be higher because they have fewer social connections than women, the experts said.

The Kentucky bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program will be traveling around the state to teach courses on recognizing the signs of suicide risks, according to its website. The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs develops educational materials for lawyers about stress, depression, addictions and other mental health issues. More information is available at its website.

Prior coverage: “Georgia bar readies suicide prevention initiative as PD takes his life”

ABA Journal: “A Death in the Office: Mark Levy’s Talent, Resumé & Friends Weren’t Enough”

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