The Connection Between Law School Loan Debt and Suicide

Yesterday’s short post on the possible connection between law school debt and suicide was, I admit, sensationally titled. However, the connection between debt and suicide is not as speculative as some commenters seem to think.

First, I am not aware of any study explicitly linking student loan debt, much less law school student loan debt, to suicide. However, there is abundant evidence of a link between debt in general and suicide, so unless law school debt comes with cupcakes and happy pills, it’s hard to imagine it somehow bucks the trend.

In 2007, James Scurlock, who produced the excellent documentary, Maxed Out, said that every debtor he spoke with for his documentary mentioned contemplating suicide. The bankruptcy lawyers he was speaking to reported similar experiences. When I represented consumers dealing with debt collection, I experienced the same thing. Here is an example:

I wish I could turn back time- I would have NEVER decided to go back to school. I also have heard that if something were to happen to me, my next of kin would be responsible for paying. I know you will tell me it’s never an option, but financially is suicide not even an option for me? Am I that completely trapped?

In Greece, calls to suicide helplines are up as much as 1,000%. The situation is much the same in Italy. Both countries are wracked by debt, both in government and in the population.

Correlation is not causation, and debt is hardly the proximate cause of any suicide. Nor is it likely to be the only factor. Unemployment also correlates strongly to suicide (as well as to being in debt). So does depression, obviously. So while you can’t lay the blame on schools or lenders, they are a part of a system, one of the primary effects of which is debt. And when people are deeply in debt, they are more likely to commit suicide.

If you don’t think there is a link between law school debt — or any other kind of debt — and suicide, you’ve got your blinders on.

Edit: The Suicide Prevention Resource Center lists “job or financial loss” as a suicide risk factor (PDF). Wikipedia mentions financial risk factors, as well (with citations):

Socio-economic factors such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and discrimination may trigger suicidal thoughts. Poverty may not be a direct cause, but it can increase the risk of suicide, as impoverished individuals are a major risk group for depression.

Keep Googling. Until we get a study, there’s plenty of evidence to support a connection.

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