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The Unmentioned Menace Among Us

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 community.

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 her.

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 something.

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, and afraid.

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.

Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program

If you, or an attorney you know, need assistance, TLAP professionals will listen to the issue presented, recommend appropriate options, and help you develop a suitable plan of action. All communications with TLAP are confidential. Don’t just hope things will get better, CALL: 615-741-3238 or toll free: 877-424-8527.

Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network

615-297-1077 or 1-888-SUICIDE

Related Links Accurate, current, and relevant information about clinical depression. American Psychological Association. Mental health services available in your community, myths and facts about mental illnesses, details about specific mental illnesses.

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