At least a dozen Kentucky lawyers have committed suicide since 2010—half of those in the last year—prompting the state bar association to speak out and act on the issue.
In a field full of hard-charging professionals often portrayed as tough as nails, it can be hard to ask for help. And that’s a problem in the legal profession, which logs rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicide [PDF] that are significantly higher than the national average.
There is such pressure on [lawyers] that it is critical to acknowledge the danger signals for depression when they occur.
“There is such pressure on [lawyers] that it is critical to acknowledge the danger signals for depression when they occur,” Kentucky Bar Association President Doug Myers wrote in a recent edition of the KBA’s Bench & Bar journal [PDF], addressing a rash of suicides among attorneys in the state over the past year. “As lawyers, we are very good at referring other troubled people for help. We need to do the same for ourselves.”
Like other state bar associations, KBA offers its members and law students access to a lawyer assistance program (LAP), which provides confidential help to members of the legal community who may be struggling with mental health issues, addiction, depression, and stress, among other conditions. The American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) assists the state groups in their work.
“The states that have staffed lawyer assistance programs can provide peer support for individuals and referrals to counseling,” according to the ABA. “The lawyers helping lawyers component of LAPs has existed from the beginning and continues to be of critical assistance in times of relapse, stress, and trauma.”
KBA’s program (KYLAP) has been working on several initiatives aimed at curbing the suicide rate among the state’s legal professionals.
“During the Kentucky Law Update—a continuing legal education program that’s offered by the bar every year—KYLAP will use about an hour of their time to speak specifically on the signs for recognizing someone at risk of committing suicide,” said Yvette Hourigan, director of KYLAP. “In addition, I completed QPR training, which is Question, Persuade, and Refer—a suicide prevention practice—and we’re going to go to each of the seven judicial districts in Kentucky and present the program to lawyers in those regions.”
Also, at KBA’s annual convention later this month, KYLAP will host “Open Recovery Meetings” for members already involved in, or interested in, a 12-step program of recovery.
“We’ve been trying to meet the needs of lawyers in the issue of depression and substance abuse for a very long time,” Hourigan said. “But it can be very difficult to reach these people. The vast majority of them have never reached out for help; no one has reached out for help on their behalf. They may not even have any bar complaints orsubstance abuse issues. It’s hard to know who’s at risk unless you’re really fine-tuned into the signs and symptoms of it.”