Orlando, Fla.— The unfortunate string of suicides that is affecting our entire country in recent years does not seem to have an end, at least not yet. These sad events can happen anywhere and to anyone, and it has direct impact in some businesses.
For example, it has been a wake up call for our law firms which have closely experienced the loss of successful high-profile career lawyers, here in Florida — making reference to a recent case in Coral Gables which wasn’t the only case for South Florida’s legal community. The problem seems to be so serious that West Palm Beach-based criminal defense attorney, who is taking over the presidency of the Florida Bar association, has promised to sustain a focus on mental health started by her predecessor, who established awareness as a priority for the over $100K-member association.
Attorneys are not the only profession facing this terrible situation, as we can’t forget the ver sad recent cases of famous designer, Kate Spade, and world renowned chef and celebrity, Anthony Bourdain who are following many others.
The situation for law firms, though, does not take us by surprise. According to a 2015 survey from the Florida Bar membership reveals that 33 percent of their lawyers report high stress as an issue, dealing with a significant challenge to achieve a live/work balance — as reported by 32 percent of the study sample.
As we know lawyers, by nature, have a profession that is adversarial, based on competitiveness, where winning or losing cases build their reputation of competence.
Severe time pressures, combined with chaotic situations in many instances which can put practicing attorneys in a significant amount of stress, as they in many ways, absorb the traumas and issues. Added to this— is a work schedule that knows no limits, given the fact that most attorneys need to be accessible seven days a week at any time, including vacation.
Their Special Committee was formed last year and has since been busy identifying ways to deal with mental health issues. The first step was improving their rules and adding new programs to support lawyers in creating equivalence between their personal lives and career obligations.
Just like the Florida Bar has adopted a proactive approach to this situation, many other professional organizations should follow in creating programs for assistance and aid to prevent these regrettable news to continue its current trend.
As part of their initiatives are an online support group and hotline, dedicated continuing education courses on mental-health training, and the distribution of educational materials to help guide law firms on best practices in promoting mental wellness, among others.
According to SHRM, whatever the dynamics of the workplace, the death by suicide of a co-worker creates shock, confusion, guilt and grief in varying degrees among employees. To make matters worse, employees’ emotional reactions are often hidden.
An employee who feels extreme guilt believing he/she should have noticed a co-worker’s struggles before a suicide may be too ashamed to discuss their feelings or ask for help. The employee suffers and grieves alone and in silence.
Confusion reigns after the suicide of an employee. People have a basic need to understand a traumatic event and, more often than not, there is no clear explanation for a suicidal death. So there is no way to fill this human need to understand. That won’t prevent employees from attempting to find a reason for what has happened. Talk, speculation, rumor and gossip can run rampant throughout the organization immediately following a suicide. This is a painful phase of the healing process and it disrupts productivity.
The following resources to employers coping with this situation can provide tools to aid workplaces with suicide prevention, intervention and postvention:
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Workplace Strategies for Mental Health
Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention
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