On Feb. 15, 2013, Georgia State Bar President Robin Clark appointed the Suicide Prevention and Awareness Committee. She chose one of us to be its chairman. The response to this new committee has included innumerable untold stories that can break the hearts of even the most experienced and seasoned litigators.
Sadly, almost every attorney knows someone who has attempted or committed suicide. Yet, other than an occasional oblique reference in an news story, this issue rarely makes the headlines. No one wants to talk about it, and law firms move past it quietly and quickly. But attorney suicide remains quite real.
When Clark first raised the issue, she said, "If we can prevent just one death, then we will have done so much for our bar." She could not have put it better. It is something every attorney and the Georgia Bar owes the profession.
The numbers are shocking and sad. Although suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among all Americans, it is the third leading cause among attorneys (after cancer and heart disease).
The rate of death by suicide for attorneys is nearly six times the suicide rate for the general population.
Among all professionals, attorneys rank first in rates of suicide (over dentists) and first in incidence of depression. The bottom line is that attorneys, as a group, are more susceptible to succumbing to the modern -day pressures of a professional practice.
Sometimes, this results in the abuse of narcotics and alcohol, depression and abandonment of clients and practices. Other times, unfortunately, it reaches a state of ultimate hopelessnesssuicide.
There are things that Georgia attorneys and law practices can do. Clark has already taken the first steprecognizing that attorney suicide is a significant and growing problem that merits recognition and response.
Most law firms already have some attorney assistance in place. For example, many firms have employee assistance programs as part of their health-care programs. These are confidential assistance hotlines specifically designed to provide help.
The Georgia Bar Association has a 24-hour confidential hotline, 1-800-327-9631, through its Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP). The program has round-the-clock counselors to provide help to attorneys and law students who seek it. The hotline is confidential and is staffed by trained counselors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.