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The Financial Crisis Is Driving Hordes of Americans to Suicide

Pushed past their breaking points, people are robbing banks to pay the rent, setting homes on fire -- even taking their own lives.
 
 
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The body count is still rising. For months on end, marked by bankruptcies, foreclosures, evictions, and layoffs, the economic meltdown has taken a heavy toll on Americans. In response, a range of extreme acts including suicide, self-inflicted injury, murder, and arson have hit the local news. By October 2008, an analysis of press reports nationwide indicated that an epidemic of tragedies spurred by the financial crisis had already spread from Pasadena, California, to Taunton, Massachusetts, from Roseville, Minnesota, to Ocala, Florida.

In the three months since, the pain has been migrating upwards. A growing number of the world's rich have garnered headlines for high profile, financially-motivated suicides. Take the New Zealand-born "millionaire financier" who leapt in front of an express train in Great Britain or the "German tycoon" who did much the same in his homeland. These have, with increasing regularity, hit front pages around the world. An example would be New York-based money manager René-Thierry Magnon de la Villehuchet, who slashed his wrists after he "lost more than $1 billion of client money, including much, if not all, of his own family's fortune." In the end, he was yet another victim of financial swindler Bernard Madoff's $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

An unknown but rising number of less wealthy but distinctly well-off workers in the financial field have also killed themselves as a result of the economic crisis -- with less press coverage. Take, for instance, a 51-year-old former analyst at Bear Stearns. Learning that he would be laid off after JPMorgan Chase took over his failed employer, he "threw himself out of the window" of his 29th-floor apartment in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Or consider the 52-year-old commercial real estate broker from suburban Chicago who " took his life in a wildlife preserve" just "a month after he publicly worried over a challenging market," or the 50-year-old "managing partner at Leeward Investments" from San Carlos, California, who got wiped out "in the markets" and "suffocated himself to death."

Beverly Hills clinical psychologist Leslie Seppinni caught something of our moment when she told Forbes magazine that this was "the first time in her 18-year career that businessmen are calling her with suicidal impulses over their financial state." In the last three months, alone, "she has intervened in at least 14 cases of men seriously considering taking their lives." Seppinni offered this observation: "They feel guilt and shame because they think they should have known what was coming with the market or they should have pulled out faster."

Still, it's mostly on Main Street, not Wall Street, that people are being driven to once unthinkable extremes. And while it's always impossible to know the myriad factors, including deeply personal ones, that contribute to drastic acts, violent or otherwise, many of those recently reported are undoubtedly tied, at least in part, to the way the bottom seems to be falling out of the economy.

As a result, reports of people driven to anything from armed robbery to financially-motivated suicide in response to new fiscal realities continue to bubble to the surface. And since only a certain percentage of such acts receive media coverage, the drumbeat of what is being reported definitely qualifies as startling.

Breaking the Bank

In September 2008, a 23-year-old woman from West Norriton, Pennsylvania, robbed a bank, police reported, to pay her rent. According to East Norriton Detective Sgt. Peter Mastrocola, "She said that the reason that she went to PNC Bank and committed the robbery was because she was two months behind in her rent and she was going to be evicted." In fact, after stealing $1,410, the young woman reportedly told police that she "took the cash from the robbery and went to another bank where she purchased a cashier's check for $1,410 made payable to Westover Village Apartments…"

 
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