We need to open up to each other to save lives

Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO of LawCare, discusses the suicide prevention focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day and signs to look out for in your colleagues.
Mental health

10 October is World Mental Health Day. Suicide, and indeed mental illness, is still a taboo in the legal community and the recent Junior Lawyer's Division wellbeing survey found that 1 in 15 junior lawyers reported having suicidal thoughts. This is a worrying statistic and one that must be addressed.

Suicide can happen to anyone

And often news of a colleague or friend taking their own life is a complete shock. Most people who feel suicidal do not actually want to die; but in that moment it feels like their only option.

Suicide is at its highest rate in the UK in five years, with 6,507 deaths last year. It is the biggest killer of men under 49 in the UK, and the suicide rate amongst men is increasing. Statistics show that men in the UK are over 3 times more likely to die by suicide than women, with men aged 45 to 49 most at risk. We have known of many sad cases over the years of legal professionals in this group who have taken their own life.

At LawCare we are listening out in every call, email and webchat for clues that someone may be suicidal. People who contact us are often anxious, stressed and depressed. They are under huge pressure, working very long hours, with a heavy workload and limited time to spend with friends and family.  These are all risk factors for poor wellbeing.

Signs to look out for in yourself or others

These are not exhaustive and some people will show no significant signs.

  • Changes in behaviour e.g. mood swings, sleeping/eating patterns, becoming angry, negative, depressed
  • Out of character reckless behaviour, e.g.  giving away all possessions, increased use of drugs or alcohol, excessive spending
  • Social withdrawal
  • Lack of energy
  • Neglecting grooming and personal hygiene
  • Suddenly appearing very calm or relieved after a period of depression
  • Settling affairs and saying goodbye
  • Talking about suicide or dying

How to have a conversation with someone you believe to be suicidal

  • Ask – have you thought about suicide? Be direct
  • Use simple, direct questions in a non-judgmental, non-confrontational way
  • Listen to the response
  • Keep talking to the person telling them they are not alone and you want to help
  • Follow your instinct
  • Ask if you can assist them to access help and support by calling a family member, the emergency services, a helpline or their GP
  • If you believe there is an immediate risk do not leave the person alone if you are in the same room, but do be mindful of your own personal safety
  • If you are talking to them on the phone use another phone to let the police know

If you have thought of suicide

  • Talk to someone – a friend, your GP, a helpline
  • Be around other people
  • Go to a safe place such as a friend's house or a Samaritans drop in centre
  • Try not to think about the future – just focus on getting through today
  • Remember drugs and alcohol are not a solution and may make you feel worse
  • Do something you usually enjoy

Changing the culture

The one thing we can all do is TALK. Talk about our feelings, admit we need help or are struggling, and share our stories of difficult times we've had in the past. And senior management in law firms need to not only keep an eye out for people who are going through a difficult time and support them, but recognise that working people into the ground will be detrimental to their mental health. This is the only way we are going to change the culture in the law.

 If you are worried about someone you work with, or a friend or family member you should always attempt to talk to them rather than avoid the issue.  Showing them that you genuinely care and want to help could make a real difference.

Call LawCare's free, independent, confidential helpline on 0800 279 6888 for immediate support for yourself or visit www.lawcare.org.uk to access webchat, email support and other information. You can also contact us if you are worried about a colleague and are unsure how to support them. If you urgently need to speak to someone outside of helpline hours (Monday to Friday 9 to 5.30) call the Samaritans on 116 123.

We have a factsheet with tips on how to recognise someone may be suicidal and how to talk to them.


Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.

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