The Canadian Bar Association has teamed up with Mood Disorders Canada to develop online educational tools to educate members of the legal profession, including law students, about mental health issues. Read the News
In January 2014, CNN reported that lawyers are among the top five occupations associated with suicide. In the summer of 2014, just before the start of the law school academic year, a law professor from the University of Vermont died by suicide. Since then, in a period of eight months, the United States law school community has seen seven law student deaths from suicide. Approximately one suicide per month, and the actual number may be greater than what has been reported by the media and the law schools.
In the painful days, weeks, and months after a suicide, family members and loved ones often are left with unanswered questions. Many times one of those questions or comments is some version of “I don’t understand why (s)/he did not just ask for help.”
A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, it was found that of people aged 35 and younger who died by suicide, only 15% had received mental health treatment within one month of their death by suicide and just 24% had received mental health treatment within one year of their suicide. The study also found that 23% of those who died by suicide who were under 35 visited a primary care doctor within one month of their death and 62% visited a primary care doctor within one year of their death.
While interpretation of statistics should be done with caution, the data suggests that young people at risk for suicide present more often to primary care physicians than mental health professionals. And while this perhaps speaks to the need to better train primary care physicians to recognize warning signs of suicide, it also begs the question just posed: why don’t people who are feeling suicidal reach out for help?
Based on feedback from law students who attended one of the Dave Nee Foundation’s Uncommon Counsel programs at 35 different schools in the 2013-2014 academic year, 64% agree or strongly agree with the statement that law students do not seek help when needed for fear of the professional consequences. One of our 2L attendees suggested: “…lobby the ABA and character and fitness people to recognize treatment for depression is a good thing, and that legal professionals are people too.” Another 1L attendee noted, “I think it is worthwhile to discuss the stigma associated with seeking mental health services, i.e. perception that s/he ‘can’t hack it’ is weak, thin-skinned, that you’re ‘unstable’ or ‘crazy’. Professional consequences of people knowing this about you, etc.”
While it is easy to point to the ABA and to other systems that may contribute to stigma, it is harder to see systemic change. It is easier to begin with individual change. Here are some things that you can do beginning right now to help reduce the stigma associated with mental health treatment.
Talk non-judgmentally with anyone you are concerned about:
- It is OK to ask someone if they need help.
- It is OK to ask someone if they are thinking about suicide, it will NOT give them the idea.
- It is NOT OK to say “You are not thinking about suicide are you?” or “What do you have to be depressed about?”
- It is OK to say, “I have noticed some changes in your behavior, is everything OK?”
- It is OK to say “It sounds like you are experiencing depression, often times people with depression have suicidal thoughts, are you thinking about suicide?”
Be mindful of language:
- The term “died by suicide” is preferable to “committed suicide” as the term “commit” has negative connotations.
- Avoid talking about suicide attempts as “successful or unsuccessful”; there are more suicide attempts in a year than completed suicides.
- When describing individuals with a mental health diagnosis, try not to define them by that diagnosis. Put the person first, “s/he is a person with bipolar disorder” not “s/he’s bipolar.”
Promote mental health care services:
- We are encouraged regularly to get a physical exam annually; we are regularly tested for blood pressure, glucose, and BMI. Why not promote a mental health check up?
- Visit Screening for Mental Health to find out how to bring an online screening service to your place of employment.
For more tips on how to help someone or for ways you can be involved in reducing stigma please visit the Dave Nee Foundation’s website.
June of 2015 will be the 10th anniversary of Dave Nee’s suicide. Dave was a beloved and brilliant brother, friend, son, and student. The suicide of Dave Nee prompted his loved ones, friends, and family to honor Dave’s life and prevent deaths like his from happening again by establishing the Dave Nee Foundation. Ten years later, there is much that the Foundation has done to promote wellness, raises awareness about depression & anxiety, and to prevent suicide in the legal field via law school and state bar association presentations. We know that 97% of our Uncommon Counsel attendees agree or strongly agree that the information learned will help them to recognize the symptoms of depression. We know that 95% of our Uncommon Counsel attendees agree or strongly agree that as a result of the presentation they can identify three warning signs of suicide. Perhaps most importantly, we know that 97% of Uncommon Counsel attendees agree or strongly agree that they know what steps to take if they felt a law student was at risk for suicide. (All data based on 2013-2014 Uncommon Counsel program feedback.)
As much progress and impact we hope we have had, until there are NO news stories of lawyer and law student suicides, we will not be satisfied. We hope that our passion and commitment might inspire other stakeholders, perhaps more powerful ones, like the ABA, the NCBE, law school administrators, and Big Law firms, to take steps towards creating cultural change and help us to destigmatize getting help and treatment for mental health concerns in the legal profession.
By Katherine Bender
Upon graduating from Georgetown University as an English and Theology major, Katherine Bender began teaching at an independent Catholic secondary school for girls in Philadelphia. During this time, she became increasingly interested in the social concerns of young women and decided to pursue a degree in community counseling with a focus on women’s issues at the University of Scranton. After completing an internship providing individual counseling to undergraduate students at a residential college, as part of her Master’s degree in counseling, she began working as a full time mental health counselor for college students in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Recognizing that advocating for students with mental health issues in higher education would likely require a Ph.D., Kate began her doctoral work at Old Dominion University in January of 2011, focused her dissertation on research regarding college student suicide prevention, and in the summer of 2013, successfully completed her doctoral program. She now has a PhD in Counseling, Counselor Education & Supervision.
She joined the team at the Dave Nee Foundation as Programming Consultant in September of 2012 and became Programming Director in September 2013. In this role, she leads the Uncommon Counsel program and LawLifeline. She sees her role with the Dave Nee Foundation as an excellent way to continue to provide outreach services and to raise awareness about depression, anxiety, and suicide prevention for higher education students.
You can reach Kate by email at Kbender@daveneefoundation.org
From Student Lawyer magazine, a story about a critical topic: the high rate of law student depression. Read the News
The litigators have become the litigated. A former city lawyer has sued the city Law Department for wrongful terminationc charging that her supervisors engineered her ouster thanks to a diagnosed case of severe postpartum depression. Read the News
We often mix-up a drive to excel and perfectionism; they’re not the same thing. A drive to be your very best can leads to a sense of self-satisfaction and self-esteem. It feels good to give it all we got. Perfectionism? It’s a horse of a different color. People who feel driven in this direction tend to be more motivated by external forces – such as the desire to please others rather than themselves. Common and recurring thoughts of perfectionists include:
- Anything short of excellent is terrible
- I should be able to do/solve this quickly/easily
- I am best handling this myself
- I must find the one right answer
- Errors, failure, and mistakes are unacceptable
- I have to do it all at once
My name’s Paul and I am a recovering perfectionist.
I am also recovering from depression. The two are connected.
I’d been trying to do too much, too well, trying to please too many people, expecting too much of myself for too long, putting too much pressure on myself, creating too much stress. That’s a lot of ‘too muches’ for one person. My self-esteem took a battering, I stopped looking forward to anything and I felt like I was useless and hopeless.”
Psychologist Dr. Gordon Flett has studied perfectionists and found that they set excessively high personal standards for themselves and others then harshly evaluate their performance on these benchmarks. Often, perfectionists believe it’s their parents, bosses, or spouses who expect them to be perfect. They believe that such people will value them only if they’re perfect. The constant demand to appear as if they have it all tougher is draining.
Others tend to see them as harsh and unforgiving – rigid and unkind – though the truth on the inside is they are vulnerable people who lack resilience. Flett fund that physicians, lawyers, and architects, whose occupations demand precision, are at higher risk for perfectionism, depression and suicide.
Causes of perfectionism run from parenting to a genetic link, but whatever it’s origins, try these fixes:
Separate self-worth from the requirement to do things perfectly.
Dr. Nicholas Jenner writes: Perfectionism is addressable by using and applying cognitive tools. Positive change can be had when thinking is changed and self worth is separated from the requirement to do things perfectly. If you constantly hear your inner critic berating you for not getting or doing that extra 20%, you have noticed your perfectionist beliefs. Discrediting and disputing these values and finding realistic evidence to prove them wrong is a key part of recovery. As humans, we are inherently imperfect. We have the ability to fail without ever being a failure. We sometimes just need to think it and believe it.
Put people first.
Before tasks and “stuff,” put your heart into connecting with the people you love.
Come out as a human being.
Authenticity, although messy, is required for the pleasure of love, joy, fun and overall happiness.
Pay attention to your own signs of trouble.
Perfectionists get more anxious and rigid when they are hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Use prevention strategies to manage this tendency.
Let go of high expectations. Try to accept people as they are. We are all unique and flawed as human beings.
The great songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen once wrote and sang, “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light get’s in.”
We’re cracked open when stress, anxiety and depression become just too painful and perhaps begin to see this eternal truth about others and ourselves:
Nobody is perfect.
Passion is a matter of perspective in, out and above the law. This blog focuses on lawyers who have found their passion IN the law. Read the Blog
Studies show that as many as forty percent of law students will suffer from depression by the spring semester of the second year of college. It’s critical for them to have a mental health screening. Here’s a piece about how to go about it. Read the Blog
Simply getting to work when you’re depressed can feel like an impossible task. Read the Blog
A new survey finds that people suffering from depression appear to experience time differently than healthy individuals. Read the News
Many people have trouble understanding depression. As a result, those with depression often have to battle social stigmas. Here’s how to overcome these misperceptions. Read the Blog