This is a guest blog by Cincinnati, Ohio attorney Tabitha M. Hochscheid, Esq., a partner at the law firm of Cohen, Todd, Kite & Stanford, LLC. In this moving tribute, she writes about her law partner and dear friend Ken Jameson who committed suicide in May of 2011 after a battle with depression.
How well do we know those with whom we spend our work days with? Is it possible to practice with someone and be there friend for years yet, not truly know that they are suffering from the depths of depression? Being around other attorneys can give us the camaraderie and support we need to grow and build our practice. But, often times, people keep their emotional health a secret and suffer from depression in silence. By the time their colleagues realize what is going on, it can be too late to do anything about it. My partner and friend Ken Jameson was one of the people. This is his story.
Ken Jameson was, by outward appearances, successful, well liked, a loving husband and father, a friend to everyone and a dependable partner. In fact, Ken was perhaps the epitome of the well liked, client centered and dedicated lawyer many of us envision when we think of how lawyers should behave. On the inside, however, Ken was struggling with the depression which eventually took his life.
I first met Ken in the summer of 2007 for breakfast to discuss my interest in joining Cohen, Todd, Kite and Stanford, LLC. Ken was so easy to talk to and we instantly bonded because he too had left a small firm to find a place to grow and build his practice at Cohen, Todd, Kite & Stanford, LLC. After I joined the firm in January 2008, Ken was always available to help and support me and we grew into friends, as well as, colleagues.
Like so many attorneys, Ken built a practice by creating a network of referrals, by giving his clients personal service and building long term relationships. He was an attorney who facilitated resolutions and provided estate plans for people of all income levels. Ken enjoyed his work. After joining the firm himself in 2006, his practice thrived. He became a trusted member of the firm and was on the management committee. Ken shared is life outside of the office with his wife and best friend of 35 years, Betsy, and three adult children of whom he was most proud.
Ken was a universally well liked person. He conducted himself professionally in such a way that he never seemed to have conflicts with others. Ken cared about his firm family, he always checked in on people if they were sick or if he knew you were under stress. He was active member in his Church. Ken took care of his physical health by walking 5 miles a day, attending Pilates classes twice a week and maintaining a healthy diet. By all outward appearances, Ken had success in his work, a happy home life and seemed content.
However, Ken had underlying mental health issues. Like many attorneys he had trouble sleeping well. Sleep is something that eludes most attorneys from time to time, but his type of sleep loss was chronic. He would fall asleep and wake up in just a few hours and not be able to go back to sleep. As long as I knew Ken, he had this issue. He tried relaxation techniques to help him sleep better, he read books about stress management and attempted to delegate work to others. Ultimately, Ken was a self confessed perfectionist and as such, had an inner critic who told him he had to be at work all the time.
Most lawyers struggle with the challenges of building a law practice, client demands and finding out how to have precious downtime. Ken was doing all the right things, but he still wasn’t able to sleep. In March of this year, he took time out of the office due to exhaustion. He went to see his family doctor and was prescribed something for sleep. He tried to come back to the office part time within a few weeks but was unable to sustain a schedule. Ken represented to those of us at work that he was exhausted and initially did not tell others what was really going on.
In late April, he left the office again. This time it was lack of sleep and a pinched a nerve in his back. With this new medical issue, his depression worsened. He spent sometime in the hospital to adjust to new medications and was scheduled for back surgery. At this point, Ken began expressing worry about the office and felt as if he was letting the firm down. Finally, Ken had back surgery for the pinched nerve in the middle of May. After the surgery, Ken seemed to be doing better; everyone thought his return to the office was imminent.
Ken never returned to the office. On Sunday, May 22, 2011, I received a call from our office manager. She informed me that Ken’s depression had worsened and that he had taken his own life that morning. As the next few days unfolded, details began to surface. Ken underwent surgery on his back and in the days following the procedure, had checked in with people at the office and had seemed like his old self. Ken also visited his mother and called his best friend. All the while, Ken meticulously planned how to take his own life.
No one can answer the question of what was going through his head or why he was in such despair that he took his life. The next five days were difficult at the office. People were in a state of shock and disbelief. His office door has remained open since Monday, May 23, 2011. A memorial was held the Saturday following his death and it was standing room only. Ken clearly touched the lives of thousands and his life was remembered in eulogies by his friends, his sister and his wife. It was touching to see so many people who loved him, but the confusion as to what occurred actually increased for many.
Do you ever really know the people we practice law with? Everyone at the office felt they had a personal relationship with Ken. But, did anyone of us really know what was happening. It is easy now to look back and see the signs of Ken’s illness (sleep deprivation, self criticism, feeling of letting others down, a search for answers and inability to allow others to help) and to wonder what if anything could have changed the outcome. Time, however, does not give us this luxury and these questions will never be answered. The best that can be done is to acknowledge that Ken’s illness, depression, can be deadly.
It seems that our profession gives little in return for years of hard labor. Learning a way to balance the demands of the business of being a lawyer with the need for downtime is essential to one’s mental and physical health. Ken’s depression is an all too real downside of the practice of law. His suicide is a tragedy to his family, our law firm and to the legal community. He was one of the “good” guys and the profession needs more people like him.
For those of us left behind we struggle for understanding and to carry on in spite of the sadness we each feel. Inevitably when speaking with others we are confronted with the questions of why? Most people will ask the normal questions – were there money problems, did he have marital problems or health issues. The answer to these questions is no and then people just cannot fathom why Ken chose to end his life. I know in my heart that, as the minister said during his memorial, that Ken felt he was “fixing” the situation. Ken was a fixer and this was his only choice left.
I’ll always miss Ken Jameson. The courage and commitment he showed to his clients, his family and those of us in business with him is something I admire. However, his suffering in silence has left me and his other colleagues with regrets as to what we could have done to help. In the end, however, Ken could not give himself permission to be less than perfect and eventually, felt those in his life were better off without him. It is truly a sad ending to a beautiful life that could have been prevented. My hope in sharing Ken’s story is that there will be greater recognition of depression and the despair that can accompany and that it will help someone struggling with these issues. As for Ken, I hope he has found the peace that life did not provide.
Editors note — If you or someone you know suffers from depression and may have thought about suicide, visit the website of the national organization The American Association of Suicidology which contains great information, resources and how to get help. Lawyers can also contact Lawyer Assistance Programs in their legal community. To locate a program near you, visit the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs website.
20 thoughts on “The Suicide of a Lawyer with Depression — Ken’s Story”
Depression is too often whispered about, but never spoken to directly. It’s time to get this killer out in the open, so fewer people fall into it’s despair. We’ve all felt the pangs of depression at some point in our lives, but many feel them so deeply, wanting to end their life seems reasonable. But it’s not reasonable and it hurts everyone involved in a ripple effect that never seems to end. The friends and family left behind with the questions and the constant feeling that we could have done something or said something to help, had we known. I’m sure Ken never thought for one moment how his death would affect so many. In fact, depressed people often think our lives will be better without them. Nothing could be further from the truth. The heartbreak and loss felt when someone you love takes their life is almost insurmountable. It’s only through talking and sharing what we’re feeling to make it somewhat bearable. So, thanks Tabitha for this article and bringing depression out of the dark shadows and into the light. Hopefully, we’ll see when others are taking that plunge and help guide them to a safe place.
You are welcome Karen. Thanks for the comment. Depression seems so common, but at the same time, so many people fail to acknowledge its pervasiveness.
Depression is too often whispered about, but never spoken to directly. It’s time to get this killer out in the open, so more people can have the chance to continue living. (filled in a half of the sentence) (hope it´s ok)
i completely agree with you.we all should talk and communicate more about depression,it´s i kind of cancer.people we care about in a way or anoter is dead because it.so please its not o joke anymore too feel like this
Thank you Ms. Hochscheid for sharing this. We are so sorry for your loss. You may be interested in knowing that the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) has a Web directory that includes Suicide Prevention in the Workplace resources, and resources related to suicide bereavement. Please see: http://www.iasp.info/resources/Suicide_and_the_Workplace/
This is so sad. Heartfelt sympathies to you, your colleagues and Ken’s family and friends.
After nearly 20 years in the legal profession, I have seen many friends and colleagues hit hard by depression. I have also suffered from depression myself. I’ve therefore been thinking quite a lot lately about the asssociation between the practice of law and depression.
I know that lawyers tend to be perfectionists and hard upon themselves if things don’t go right or if they feel they have made mistakes. This undoubtedly contributes. But there are people like that in many other professions.
I think there is something about the whole structure of the profession and the context within which it is practiced that makes it very hard for lawyers with any kind of emotional vulnerability.
To me the law is unforgiving: judges are unforgiving, court rules are unforgiving, clients are unforgiving, billable hours are unforgiving, supervising partners are unforgiving. There is so little room in the law for human fallibility to be accepted that us poor fallible lawyers get crushed by the weight of it all.
I have seen some wonderful lawyers and wonderful people whose health has been destroyed by the law.
Something has to give.
Thank you Martin for your comment. It echoes my feelings on the practice of law. It seems the more successful we become the more pressure there is. It makes you wonder if anyone could live up to the expectations the legal community places on its members.
My hope is that people understand that there is room in the legal profession to care about one another and that there develops an understanding of the mental health issues we all face.
Studies show that lawyers face depression at twice the rate of others and yet our profession has a difficult time acknowledging this and developing a proactive response. I think this needs to change and Dan’s website and blog are such great resources for those in need.
Thanks again for your comment. Peace be with you.
thank you so much for writing this … it has helped me to better perspective on the secret trials Ken struggled with, and thus has helped my grieving process as well. he was my attorney and friend for 20 plus years and sadly i was unaware he suffered so.; though in light of events so much makes sense now. I too received one of his last week phone calls, and now realize it was a ‘goodbye’ call. i have been disappointed in myself that i did not read between the lines and reach out to possibly prevent this tragedy, but i see now that many of those who suffer with this illness are masters of hiding it. Thank you for the healing words. jh
Tabitha, Thanks for a great article. We all are trying to understand
Thanks for the comment. I hope this post gives you comfort that we all love and miss Ken and great deal.
Thank you for sharing this very sad story. As someone who has dealt with clinical depression since the early ’70’s, I unfortunately consider myself somewhat of an “expert” on this subject. As was Mr. Jameson, I consider myself a very successful and strong person. Regrettably, all the success and strength of character one possesses does nothing to thrwart the insidiousness of this illness. One’s profession can certainly exacerabate any illness, including depression, but it is very important to realize that depression in and of itself is the real killer of those who take their own lives.
Untreated or poorly treated depression snuffs out many lives, irrespective of how one may or may not be handling the pressure and expectations of their profession. Like Mr. Jameson, I would have gladly taken my life many times over, if not for effective anti-depressant therapy and medication. Mr. Jameson’s sleep pattern is a classic symptom of this illness, and one from which I also suffered. It is unfortunate that his doctor simply treated the symptom of sleeplessness instead of the cause (depression). It is also possible that Mr. Jameson never sought out effective treatment and proper medication for his depression. It is a fact that males, especially those in high-level professions, incorrectly diagnose their depression as simply a sign of inner weakness or as a character flaw which needs to be hidden, instead of correctly understanding it to be a very serious medical condition which needs to be agressively treated as such (via therapy and antidepressant meds). For too long, I considered my depressive symptoms as character flaws, and this almost cost me my life. I was very fortunate to be referred to an excellent psychiatrist, who over a year’s time taught me how to intellectually understand this illness. This, in conjunction with the right combination of antidepressant meds, allowed me to regain control of my life. I now take four antidepressants on a daily basis which are carefully monitored by a psychiatrist. if not for this, I would have shared the very tragic but also very avoidable fate as Mr. Jameson.
As for those family members and friends left behind who struggle over one’s decision to end their life because of depression, I can tell you it is a very easy decision when one is in the grip of this horrible illness. It is truly hell on earth, and it is impossible for one to comprehend unless they have also suffered with depression. The term “depression” in many ways is such a misnomer. This illness rips a person apart, especially one who is suffering its symptoms without effective medication.
Mr. Jameson died not because of the stress or pressures of work; he died from a very deadly and insidious, but thankfully also a very treatable illness. He should also not be blamed in any way for his decision to end his life. Due to the effects of his untreated depression, he was doing this for what he perceived to be very unselfish reasons. It is very sad that so many people consider suicide to be a selfish act; for those who do so because of depression, this couldn’t be further from the truth. As you stated in your article, I can tell you firsthand that he very much felt that his passing would be of benefit to others. As strange and as counterintuitive as this seems, it makes perfect sense to someone suffering from major clinical depression, as was Mr. Jameson. It is so important that family members and friends be able to recognize the symptoms of this illness, and know how to successfully intervene, in order for their loved one to receive proper help. Long-term help HAS to come from a psychiatrist who specializes in depression, NOT from the family doctor. Someone suffering from a deadly form of cancer would not expect their treatment regimen to be administered by their family doctor. This same logic also applies to the treatment of major clinical depression.
Thanks for your post and for sharing your own experiences. I just want to clarify a few points.
First, Ken received excellent care at the Lindner Center for Hope in Mason, Ohio which specializes in psychiatric care. I do not know the specifics and for that reason did not mention specific details. This is the best care facility in our are.
Second, I agree that depression is something best left for Psychiatrists. But, the reality of our medical system is that primary care doctors are the first to see and recognize the symptoms. In fact, they write many prescriptions for antidepressants each day. In addition, there is the issue of patients “presenting well”. Sometimes, patients are not forthcoming with their illnes or are in denial.
Third, as to the practice of law, I am not blaming the legal profession for Ken’s death. But, I am well aware of the mental toll a busy law practice can have on an attorney. Dan has a many articles on why depression is an issue for people in our profession. You can view them on the articles tab on his main website http://www.lawyerswithdepression.com. My point is that education is needed about balancing work and life. The legal profession must change its focus from dealing with attorneys through the disciplinary process and start addressing the issues in a proactive manner. The staggering reality is that the majority of attorneys who are disciplined each year have a mental health issues and there are many more who are good lawyers and suffer in silence.
Finally, many people reached out to help Ken with his struggle. His friends, law partners and most importantly, his wife Betsy and his children. Speaking from first hand experience (my mother is bi-polar) family often searches for the thing that will “snap” the person out of their illness. There are many times have felt like the mother I grew up with is not the same person that I know as my mother now. It is very difficult to watch someone you love descend into depression and in this case despair. Ultimately, the choice was Ken’s and nothing anyone could have done was going to bring him back.
Thanks again. I am happy for your successes in battling this illness.
Thank you for your response, and for clarifying some points which I made in error. I apologize or “jumping the gun” in stating these points, and it is good to know that Mr. Jameson received the best of care. You are correct; sometimes all this can’t prevent a suicide, and it certainly speaks to the terrible toll which depression takes on those who suffer from this illness.
Thanks again for your response to my post.
This thread has really startled me. I have decided not to commit suicide because it would hurt my kids, their kids and their kids. Yes, I’m a great grandma.
I know God would not mind because He knows all about it.
So I feel like I am in a more horrible position, by not being allowed to end my life because of loving my family.
I have been in therapy for many years, see a psychiatrist, am on two anti-depressants. I have weekly therapy I need to re-start since my therapist has had an accident and can no longer see her patients.
I love how this is all clearer to me, but am at a loss as to what to do with it all.
Thank you for your post. You are so courageous and strong to fight your depression and to speak about it.
My hope is that you will find a new talk therapist immediately. Having someone to share your concerns with weekly is so important for the management of your illness. Call you psychiatrist or family doctor and get a referral to someone new today.
From the perspective of a family member I can say that your courage in handling your illness can be seen by those that love and care for you. After many years of struggling to understand my mother’s illness, I have realized that she is a strong person and I carry her strength inside of me. I am also very proud to be her daughter.
May your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren help you find peace and happiness.
As a psychotherapist, I wish I could say that this tragic circumstance was rare. Unfortunately, depression can lead to suicide, especially when those who suffer feel there are no other options. This blog has raised many significant points, and I think it important to illustrate some of the patterns and help to educate others.
In my experience, highly educated, and “successful” people are strangely at risk for many possible reasons. Sometimes perfectionism can lead to procrastination (waiting to perform until able to perform “perfectly” – obviously impossible for a human being) which could lead to more stunted achievement and a snow ball effect that becomes overwhelming. Despite some level of confidence required to achieve lofty goals, many times people who are accomplished become used to expecting that their hard work will pay off, and set-backs (visible or not) are interpreted as personal failures or are unexpected obstacles. In the mental health field, prognosis is partly determined by how far a person falls. A tycoon in the Great Depression may have jumped out of a window faster than other contemporaries who had achieved less.
But consider not just the habit of success. Consider also that many professionals who immerse ourselves in a career identify ourselves through that career and our position. It really is something that defines us, and without some perspective that other things define us as well (family, friends, interests) we could be headed for trouble. But the stakes are very high when we are intimately connected with any high-stress job. Add to that a high-stress job that is in a care-taking profession, and sometimes one that lives in crisis. Those of us who are advocates for others: attorneys, psychotherapists, fire fighters, police officers, clergy, anyone in the health care industry, and many others – we take care of other people all day. It is very difficult, yet imperative, to remember that we must take care of ourselves as well. Being a “fixer” is also dangerous. What happens when there are some things that simply cannot be fixed? One must learn not to feel inadequate if one’s hands are tied. Learning to just “be” – be with a difficult circumstance, be with a loved one who is hurting – knowing that nothing can fix certain circumstances and coping anyway – is important.
I have dealt with a great number of attorneys in my practice. Sometimes it is for anxiety or depression. Sometimes relationship problems. Other times attorneys come to me with Character and Fitness issues as a result of their psychological or behavioral problems affecting their work. The common threads that I see among my attorney clients (not all, but most) are a great concern about privacy and their professional image. Many refuse to have correspondence coming to their home and insist on only providing their work address. Many tend to get stuck in what we call “Black and White Thinking” – it’s this way unless it’s not. Whether or not that comes from the practiced mindset that allows an attorney to build an argument or a line of questioning, I am not sure. But psychologically it really does trap a person. I do also see the struggle with showing (and even having) emotional vulnerability and, as one other post described, there is “little room for human fallibility” allowed. Tragic, and not fair.
As a result of my also running a group for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse, I had someone forward to me information on a man who posted a 4000 word suicide note online right before taking his life. This gentleman was not an attorney, but he was a highly successful programmer and grad student at Princeton who was sexually abused as a child and could never tell anyone. I have passed this on to others because it is just one type of circumstance to explain one man’s story – and, for him, to answer that awful question: “why?” Feel free to Google Bill Zeller to read his story.
So my recommendation is to take the advice of those who posted before me. If you suffer from depression, get help. You have to want it. Others cannot want it for you. But depression is treatable, and it is an illness – not a character flaw. If you had diabetes, I bet you would take insulin if that is what your doctor prescribed. This is no different. You must put forth just as much effort in self-care as you do caring for others. Prioritize what is important and balance work and life. And get honest – with yourself and with others. Be genuine. Talk to others and connect with people. It really requires far more strength to tell the real deal! Then we can work to find positive coping skills and build resilience so there are more options to get through life instead of ending it.
If you are a loved one who is suffering from the suicide of someone close to you, remember that this is not your fault. Your loved one had to want help. It is awful not to have answers to your questions, but remember that there is always more to a story, and the person you loved must have felt there were no other options. Getting help for yourself to process and get through complicated grief might be a good idea for you as well.
And to Ken’s friends and family, please accept my most sincere condolences.
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