Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thoughts on a Suicide!

A colleague commited suicide last Tuesday, the 21st of July. He hanged himself in his office late that evening. It was a holiday for in our part of the world Hindus perform rituals by the sea and rivers to honour their ancestors. He did all the rituals for his ancestors in the morning and returned to his office where he remained all alone through out the day. In a note he has mentioned that he's taking his life and no one else is responsible for it.

A lawyer known for his integrity he was the District Government Pleader and Public Prosecutor at the time of his death. Under India's Civil and Criminal Procedure Code's it is a vital position in the administration of justice at the district level.

Though my senior in age and experience we enjoyed a comfortable relationship as a host of incidents and circumstances brought us close, personally and professionally. From that vantage point, I can see no reason why he should commit suicide. Yet, he did! Why? One can only speculate!

Is a person's decision to take his life an act on the spur of the moment, done abruptly and without forethought? Or is it done after deep thought and reflection? Does the situation, more important than the disposition of the person , trigger it?

I would link this incident to what happiness researchers like Martin Seligman and his colleagues say about the mental health of lawyers. Though their research was done in an American context, its findings can be applied in all countries. The study found that lawyers were the most highly paid professionals in the United States but the rates of depressive disorders, illegal drug abuse, alcoholism and divorce (even in women) were disproportionately higher than in any other profession or occupation. Lawyers are trained to foresee what might go wrong for their clients in every situation and defend them from it. This pessimistic outlook is a great professional asset but the danger is it seeps in to personal life and wreaks havoc. Along with it, the shift in emphasis on legal practice from good counsel about justice and fairness being the primary good to making it a big business turns lawyers more and more unhappy.

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