When a Friend Commits Suicide: There Were Signs,

and There Was Help

My friend Susan1 killed herself in the summer of 2012. Unfortunately, Susan’s death is not uncommon for lawyers. When compared to other professions, lawyers rank fourth in suicide rates (behind dentists, pharmacists, and physicians).2 But for me Susan was not a statistic, Susan was a friend.

I first got to know Susan at a Euchre Tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina. Euchre is a Midwestern Card game where Jacks are high, and is a common right-of-passage at Midwestern universities. Since Susan was raised in the South and did her undergraduate and law school education here in North Carolina, Susan was unfamiliar with the game. So Susan came to the tournament about fifteen minutes early to learn the rules, and by the end of the night Susan and her randomly-picked partner were the Euchre tournament champions.

Susan was just that smart; so it was no shock to learn that Susan was an attorney. When I decided to take the LSAT, Susan helped me prepare for the test. The logic games threw me for a loop, but Susan had the ability to master those games, and she did her best to teach me some tricks and methods. With her help on the LSAT, and with her letter of recommendation, I was able to get into law school. After law school Susan wrote letters of support on my behalf to become a member of the Bar, and she recommended me for jobs.

Susan was good to me, which makes the rest of this story difficult. While my career took off, Susan showed signs of trouble. The bar censured Susan for a rules violation, she started smoking, and she put on an enormous amount of weight. The winter before her death I went to Susan’s home for an Oscars party. The house was in serious disarray, and it was obvious that something was wrong with Susan.

Instead of looking for a way to help Susan, I looked for an excuse to get out. I promised that I would do something later. When Susan wanted to come over to see my new house a few months before she died, I said something to the effect of “we will have to make that happen.” I was simply not there for Susan.

One of the bright spots in my career has been my involvement in the Lawyers Assistance Program (LAP). I found a place within the Bar where alcoholics seeking recovery and already-recovering alcoholics like me could find support. LAP also provides support for those struggling with mental issues. I loved telling Susan about my job and getting her advice, but now I wish I did more to tell her about LAP.

Susan left behind a husband and a really special daughter. Her daughter reminds me of the Susan I knew at that Euchre tournament. I hope her daughter remembers her mom for the thoughtful, smart, and special person she was, and not for the mental health issues that ultimately claimed her life. I wish I did invite her over to the new house; I wish I did tell her about the great things LAP has to offer; and I wish Susan was still here to be my friend.

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1. Susan’s name was changed to protect her privacy.

2. Weiss, Debra Cassens, “State bars battle lawyer depression; legal profession ranks fourth in suicide rate,” ABA Journal Jan 2014 (Available here.)