September is national suicide prevention month.  Although suicide is a difficult topic to discuss, it is one that greatly affects the legal profession.  Suicide is the third leading cause of death amongst lawyers and of any profession, lawyers have the highest rate of depression and have the highest rate of suicide.  It is important as a legal profession that we acknowledge these statistics and recognize the difficulties that some of our colleagues may be struggling with.

Having suffered from depression for many years I understand the difficulty that a lawyer faces in trying to balance ones legal career and their mental health.  Although lawyers are very good at advocating for their clients, they are often not very good at advocating for themselves.  Asking for help for yourself is one of the hardest things to do.  However, it is also imperative to do when you are suffering from depression or any mental health issue.  When I first started as a young lawyer and even recently I struggled with taking the necessary steps to deal with my depression.  I felt guilty that in taking the necessary steps to manage my depression that I was going to affect my billable hours and that this would be counted against me.  What I discovered is that if I am not healthy mentally, I am not as effective of a lawyer and my advocacy for my client suffered.  I urge you that if you are suffering from depression or any other mental illness to seek help even though it may be hard.

 

Oftentimes we see colleagues suffering from some of the symptoms of depression.  The symptoms of depression include but are not limited to the loss of interest in work and hobbies, sleep difficulties, eating changes with corresponding weight changes, anger and irritability, expressing negative thoughts, suicidal ideas, and loss of confidence in oneself.  Since depression is not always obvious and lawyers are reluctant to ask for help do not be afraid to ask the hard questions: Are you depressed? Are you thinking about killing yourself?  Do you need help?

If you or a colleague need any assistance the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program provides confidential help for lawyers, law students and judges who have problems with mental health and/or substance abuse.  The Texas Lawyers Assistant Program can be contacted twenty-four hours a day at 1-800-343-8527.  Additionally, the Texas Young Lawyer’s Association program Breaking the Silence features a series of podcasts where lawyers can access information about many mental health topics which can be viewed in private and provide valuable resources.

 

If this article can bring awareness to even just one lawyer to receive help in dealing with their depression or provide the information that is needed to assist a colleague of an individual suffering, we have taken the first steps in preventing suicide.  Although individuals that often suffer from depression do so in silence, they do not have to as our incredible legal community can provide an army of lawyers willing to lend a helping hand and support as needed.

Sara Giddings

Sara is an associate with Smith Rose Finley in San Angelo Texas where she practices tax, estate planning and business law. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Political Science from Austin College and her J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center. Sara currently serves as the District 15 Director for the Texas Young Lawyers Association. She is also President of the Tom Green County Young Lawyers Association and involved in several other activities in her community.

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