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Increase in Kentucky Lawyer Suicides Exposes the Unique Stresses of the Profession
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Being a lawyer can be more depressing than other professions. Though suicide and depression studies don’t often look at the problem occupationally, there are some old studies to explain why there has been a rash of lawyer suicides lately. One older study in 1991 of John Hopkins University found that lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to be depressed than average, and 1997 study in Canada found they were six times as likely to commit suicide than the average person.

Jim Dinwiddie, Harry Rankin, and Ross Turner all killed themselves recently. Each had his own story, his own reasons, but each was a lawyer in Kentucky. At least a dozen lawyers in Kentucky have committed suicide since 2010, and each for their own reason. Ross, for instance, helped fight the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville over priest abuse, and a friend said “Ross never seemed the same to me,” after the pain of the case.

  
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That might explain why lawyers struggle with depression. They have ideals, hopes, a genuine love and hope for justice to be done, and are disappointed when justice isn’t done, when their sacrifice and pains are in fact scoffed at and they themselves are blamed for the injustice.

“They learn that justice is not always done. Innocent people are abused and some go to prison. People guilty of terrible wrongs go free,” wrote State Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham. “They worry that all the lost hours and missed holidays with family and friends…do not matter…They become like a weak-kneed boxer in the 15th round. They keep flailing away. But they lose purpose. They lose hope.”

“Everybody hates lawyers,” said Louisville trial lawyer Hans Poppe, as Courier-journal.com reported, “except for their own lawyer.”

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Though the stories of lawyers who commit suicide vary from issues of marital fidelity to working without a proper license, to other various issues, the common denominator of working in a difficult profession that frustrates their hopes may be a core part of what leads lawyers to higher depression than average. Suicide happens to be an occupational hazard for lawyers, much the way it is with poets. Keeping that in mind, and learning to be kind to oneself, and getting the help you need, is part of being a good lawyer.

The Kentucky Lawyer Assistant Program can be reached at (502) 564-3795 and at kylap dot org; they can offer confidential assistant for depression, suicide, and other problems lawyers might face.





 

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