CNN has a heartbreaking new story that examines America’s growing epidemic of crippling depression and suicide among attorneys — particularly male trial lawyers.
State bar associations in Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Iowa, and other states have taken action to protect lawyers’ mental health in light of their high suicide rates. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says lawyers are the fourth most suicidal profession after dentists, pharmacists, and physicians.
There are a few theories about why lawyers are vulnerable to depression and suicide. For one thing, the law can attract workaholics who are prone to stress. The law — particularly trial law— also involves constant strife and conflict, which can be inherently stressful and depressing.
“There are a lot of high stress professions,” Yvette Hourigan, who runs the Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program, told CNN. “Being a physician has stress. However, when the surgeon goes into the surgical suite to perform his surgery, they don’t send another physician in to try to kill the patient. You know, they’re all on the same team trying to do one job. In the legal profession, adversity is the nature of our game.”
Moreover, lawyers who get depressed and start falling down on the job can face even more conflict from their state bar associations, which may discipline them.
“A lawyer has conflict. He’s got his clients, he’s got other lawyers, he’s got the opposition lawyers, he’s got insurance companies, judges, jurors, and he’s got the bar association,” Ohio lawyer Eric Deters told CNN. “They will take the most minor little thing. And they will turn it into a problem for a lawyer.”
In some cases that CNN reported on, however, lawyers who killed themselves performed extremely well at work until they ended their lives.
Ken Jameson, a 58-year-old lawyer in Ohio, was generating about $US600,000 in billable hours before he ended his life. His three kids were doing great, and his wife thought their relationship was wonderful.
“I never dreamed that I would be a widow at 58,” his wife, Betsy Jameson, told CNN. “We were starting the best chapter of our lives. We were empty-nesters. We had plenty of money.”
Ken Jameson is part of a larger group of people who have seen a surge in suicides in recent years: men in their 50s. The CDC said earlier this year that suicides in that group have increased 50% in the past decade, The New York Times reported.
“It is the baby boomer group where we see the highest rates of suicide,” the C.D.C.’s deputy director, Ileana Arias, told The Times. “There may be something about that group, and how they think about life issues and their life choices that may make a difference.”
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