Monday, July 28, 2008

The Suicide "Solution"

Once, back when I was a public defender, a client told me she was close to killing herself. We stayed and called around, finding her a counselor who was very helpful and who agreed to meet with her later that day. I felt lucky because, although there was nothing more important than finding her someone to talk with, who would hopefully talk her out of it, I really didn't know what to do. Like a lot of other things, they didn't teach me how to handle the suicidal client in law school.

Then, during the middle of a trial on termination of parental rights, a different client told me that if her rights were terminated she planned on killing herself. Hearing this, I obviously tried very hard to win, but also took the threat as an indication that her parenting abilities, and addiction issues, still needed some work.

Thankfully, neither of these young women followed through on their threats, but I don't want to ever get complacent about hearing threats like these again, as it's difficult to know what's a cry for help and what's a prediction about what will happen next.

I'm concerned about the coming economic hard times and the effect they'll have on my clients especially. Many of these "indigent" people exist on the edge of disaster anyway, and economic hardships will likely trickle down on them the hardest.

I wonder, as I look back and see how many of my first clients are now dead, how many more will endure further disasters as the economy tumbles.

Along these lines,
Barbara Ehrenreich writes in the HuffPo about "The Suicide Solution:"

Suicide is becoming an increasingly popular response to debt. James Scurlock's brilliant documentary, Maxed Out, features the families of two college students who killed themselves after being overwhelmed by credit card debt. "All the people we talked to had considered suicide at least once," Scurlock told a gathering of the National Assocition of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys in 2007. According to the Los Angeles Times, lawyers in the audience backed him up, "describing clients who showed up at their offices with cyanide, or threatened, 'If you don't help me, I've got a gun in my car.'..."

Offering a much better solution, she writes later:

The alternative is to value yourself more than any amount of money and turn the guns, metaphorically speaking, [Note the word, "metaphor," Rebecca!] in the other direction. It wasn't God, or some abstract economic climate change, that caused the credit crisis. Actual humans -- often masked as financial institutions -- did that, (and you can find a convenient list of names in Nomi Prins's article in the current issue of Mother Jones.) Most of them, except for a tiny few facing trials, are still high rollers, fattening themselves on the blood and tears of ordinary debtors. I know it's so 1930s, but may I suggest a march on Wall Street?

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