By Nancy K. Corley, Esquire Bruce,Weathers, Corley & Lyle
TThis summer, two bright young Nashville lawyers committed suicide and two
more attempted suicide. I knew all four of these women but one was a close
friend. She was very smart, accomplished and respected in her chosen field of
law, active in her church and in her community, sought out by clients for her
expertise and knowledge of the law. There were no compelling professional
reasons for her to abandon her clients, her friends, or her law firm in such a
final and irrevocable way. But she did! What a loss to the Nashville legal
Suicide is a subject we are not comfortable talking about and certainly don’t
like to think about. But as a memorial to my friend, I am going to talk about
it and I am going to make you think about it.
Suicide has been described as a terminal condition of unacknowledged,
undetected, untreated or poorly treated mental clinical depression. Every year
in Tennessee almost 800 men, women, or children kill themselves. Suicide is the
11th leading cause of death in this country with a suicide occurring every 18
minutes. Eye-opening as these statistics are, they reveal only the tip of the
iceberg. They do not include the attempts, only the ones that are successful.
They do not include the “accidental“overdoses, the one-car wrecks that are
disguised suicides. So we really don’t know just how pervasive suicide actually
is. We really don’t know how many people actually kill themselves each year or
how many try but don’t succeed. But it is too many!
Depression and suicide are entwined in a macabre dance of death. I don’t
really understand why my friend chose to end her life as she did but I do know
that she suffered in a deep black abyss of depression. In the good-bye letter
she left for me after her death, she simply said, “My decision to go forward
and end my life is a reflection of the pain and hopelessness that I feel.”
Depression held her in its deadly grip she could not escape; I think she just
didn’t have any more strength left to struggle or suffer.
While less than 10 percent of the general population suffers from clinical
depression, the incidence of depression in lawyers, regardless of their years
in practice, is three to four times higher. That is a frightening and sobering
statistic for our profession. It should rudely shake us awake to this horrible
problem and spur us to try to do something about it.
When I found out that my friend was planning to kill herself, I frantically
looked for ways to help her, somewhere she could go, someone who could save
But I didn’t know where to turn, anyone to ask, how to help her. I had never
given suicide much thought, had never talked about suicide with anyone. I never
contemplated that any friend of mine would plan to kill herself. If I thought
about it or discussed it at all, it was only academic, it was never personal.
But now it is personal.
Suicide and depression is the menace to the members of our profession that we
ignore, pretend doesn’t exist. But it does exist and we can’t ignore it. It has
claimed too many victims this summer and will claim more if we don’t do
If we don’t acknowledge that it exists, we can’t prevent it. If we don’t
acknowledge that bright successful lawyers kill themselves, that lawyers as a
group suffer from clinical depression at a rate significantly greater than
non-lawyers, if we don’t think about that and don’t talk about that, we can’t
do anything about it.
I for one am no longer willing to ignore this unmentioned menace. I can no
longer pretend that it doesn’t exist because I now know that it does. I lost
one friend and don’t want to lose another because I was hesitant to talk about
this “sensitive subject.”We are all potentially at risk and we have to
recognize the risk and find ways to combat it.
There is now a suicide and depression task force forming in the Nashville
legal community to find ways to fight suicide and clinical depression in
lawyers; to drag the whole stigmatized subject out into the open; to educate
lawyers on recognizing the symptoms of clinical depression in themselves, in
their law partners and associates; to inform lawyers of what to do when they
see the symptoms; to set up a network of referrals through TLAP for help, so no
member of our profession has to struggle with depression ashamed, and alone,
We must confront this menace head on; we can no longer ignore it or pretend it
doesn’t threaten us because, directly or indirectly, it threatens us all.