Guest blog by Rose Allett from Start the Conversation: Suicide Prevention Education
Rose spoke at one of our free monthly evening sessions for junior lawyers.
Claiming Space invited me to lead a conversation, on 3rd June 2019, about suicide prevention with a group of lawyers, many representing clients whose life circumstances would be unimaginable for most people.
These lawyers were, as I expected, passionate about their cases and outcomes, but they were also, without exception, concerned about the emotional welfare of their clients, who they told me are regularly sharing with them a wish ‘not to be here anymore’, questioning ‘the point’ of life, or expressing feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness – all signs a person might be thinking of suicide, signs which mustn’t be ignored.
But it’s not only clients who are struggling. Suicide doesn't discriminate, and we discussed how we simply cannot divide people into groups of ‘them’ and ‘us’. Given the vicarious trauma that is inevitably leaking into a legal profession already under pressure of increasingly complex and horrific cases, burgeoning caseloads and cuts in Legal Aid, it’s hardly surprising that lawyers are struggling emotionally too.
Statistics back this up. A recent survey found that one in 15 junior solicitors have had thoughts of suicide within the past month, and almost 50% had experienced mental ill health, whether diagnosed or not. Despite these figures, and a number of high profile suicides among the legal profession, lawyers are reportedly finding it very hard to admit to colleagues that they need help, due in part to the pressure of success and outdated fear that asking for help is somehow ‘weak’.
When it comes to talking about mental health, including suicide, the legal world seems to be lagging tragically behind, whilst elsewhere in our communities we are slowly changing this stuck record: recognising that it’s OK not to be OK, that we’re all human, and that, contrary to traditional old-fashioned beliefs, there is strength in vulnerability. (See: BrenéBrown on Netflix if you haven’t already!)
It’s important that we also recognise that talking about suicide, even asking a colleague something like:
“I’ve noticed you’re drinking more than usual and you seem distracted. You say you’re not sleeping well. I’m worried about you. Is it possible that you’re thinking of suicide?”
…Asking a question like this is not going to make things worse. Yes, we’re afraid, of course we are. Afraid of ‘putting the idea in their head’. Afraid of ‘saying the wrong thing’. Afraid of offending or upsetting the person. But these fears are dangerous because they stop us talking, or even showing that we care.
Our suicide prevention session on 3rd June went some way to break down these fears and offer practical stepsfor connecting with a client or colleague on a more human level, with compassion and kindness: spotting the signs that a client or colleague could be struggling and starting a conversation with that person that could save their life.
The session was based on The Pressure of Success, a workshop I have written in partnership with charity Olly’s Future, created in memory of Oliver Hare who took his life two days before his 23rd birthday. We are currently delivering this workshops to young professionals in London and beyond.
If you want to know more or book The Pressure of Successsuicide prevention session for your workplace, visitwww.starttheconversation.uk.