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The Canadian Bar Association

Balance / Mieux-être



Countering despair

Taking steps to deal with suicide among lawyers.

By Dr. Adrian Hill

In 1997, the CBA’s Legal Profession Assistance Conference received an urgent call for help from Nova Scotia after a series of lawyer suicides in Halifax. The Barristers’ Society, the Nova Scotia Branch of the CBA, and the entire legal community were in distress.

LPAC’s comprehensive response began with research to understand the scope of the problem. The Canadian Bar Insurance Association (CBIA) offered its help by providing mortality data from its life insurance experience. As one of the larger group insurers in the world and one of the largest life insurers of lawyers, the CBIA and its data were invaluable.

The original LPAC Lawyer Suicide Study was the first reported investigation of lawyer suicide in Canada, and it appears to have been the first such study anywhere in the world. The data has been widely reported and quoted in research papers and in professional articles in both Canada and the United States.

LPAC studied the CBIA Basic Term Life Insurance claims (deaths) reported from December 1, 1994 to November 30, 1996, a full two-year period. These records revealed that suicide was, incredibly, the third-leading cause of death among these lawyers during this period, after cancer and cardiac arrest. Suicide accounted for 10.8% of all lawyer deaths.

Even more importantly (and alarming) was the suicide rate, which calculated out at 69.3 suicide deaths per 100,000 lawyers. In the general population in Canada and the U.S., the suicide rate is in the range of 10 to 14 per 100,000 – the rate of death by suicide for lawyers was nearly six times that of the general population.

The group identified in the CBIA data as most at risk of suicide was lawyers and judges aged 48 to 65. This is consistent with other studies and with public health data. (Lawyers over 65 are excluded from the CBIA term life insurance risk pool, and therefore we could not report any data for this group.)

The LPAC Suicide Prevention Program

In response to the situation in Nova Scotia, LPAC began a nationwide suicide prevention and bereavement support training program for lawyers and judges. We consulted with the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) and the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) for ideas and direction.

We accessed information, data and materials from the Suicide Information and Education Centre in Calgary, the leading suicide library facility in the world. We enlisted the support and expertise of Dr. Heather Fiske, a clinical psychologist with expertise in hospital and community-based suicide prevention programs and strategies, whose innovations have enjoyed strong peer support and approval within both CASP and AAS.

Together with Dr. Fiske, in 1999 we created the Suicide Prevention Education Manual, with teacher and student materials, for LPAC’s Health, Wellness & Recovery Education Series, the most comprehensive lawyer wellness materials available anywhere.

Awareness of suicide risk in the legal profession has been greatly improved by the CBA and its LPAC programs. Suicide prevention is now an accepted part of the mandates of assistance programs for law students, lawyers and judges. The cluster of lawyer suicides experienced in 1997 has not occurred again in this country.

In 2002, LPAC’s Website was expanded to include all of the 25 courses in the Health, Wellness & Recovery Education Series, with financing from the CBA’s Law for the Future Fund. To view the materials, go to www.lpac.ca, click on Education Programs, then choose "Suicide Prevention."

Dr. Adrian Hill, LSM, has been in private practice for 29 years in a small firm in Toronto. He is Executive Director of the Legal Profession Assistance Conference (www.lpac.ca) of the CBA and can be reached at adrian@lpac.caor at 416.520.9016.

english

Échec au désespoir

Des mesures pour contrer les suicides de juristes au Canada.

En 1997, la Conférence sur l’aide à la profession juridique a reçu un urgent appel à l’aide de la Nouvelle-Écosse après une série de suicides d’avocats à Halifax. La Conférence a immédiatement entrepris une étude approfondie du suicide au sein de la communauté juridique, et les résultats obtenus ont été fort révélateurs.

En utilisant les données de l’Association d’assurances du Barreau canadien sur les décès survenus entre 1994 et 1996, la Conférence a appris que le suicide était la troisième cause de mortalité chez les avocats, après le cancer et les maladies cardiaques. Pire, le taux de suicide chez les avocats s’établissait à 69,3 pour 100 000, soit six fois plus que le taux moyen pour la population générale. Les avocats le plus à risque ont entre 48 et 65 ans, selon l’étude.

Confrontée à une situation aussi dramatique, la Conférence a entrepris un programme pan-canadien de prévention du suicide et de soutien aux endeuillés après consultation avec l’Association canadienne de prévention du suicide et l’Association américaine de suicidologie. En 1999, en collaboration avec Heather Fiske, une psychologue spécialisée en prévention du suicide, la Conférence a produit un manuel de prévention à l’intention des juristes. Pour en savoir plus sur le manuel et les formations disponibles, voir le site de la Conférence à www.lpac.ca.

Copyright © 2006 The Canadian Bar Association