Strain and the Economy

“These are desperate times, desperate measures are called for”
Well maybe not so desperate measures. 
Though some “experts” caution us that suicide attempts are not on the rise, there certainly are some recent indicators suggesting stress and strain in the current economy are causing some people to go over the edge.
In Saguenay, Quebec Marc Laliberte and Cathie Gauthier murdered their 3 children and then Gauthier apparently assisted her husband’s suicide on New Years Day.  Both adults had recently been laid off from work and were experience increasing pressure to pay their bills.  

France’s Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet took his own life after losing more than a billon dollars in the fallout from the Madoff affair.  What started half comical ended all tragic when Marcus Schrenker attempted to fake his own death by crashing his private plane into a Florida Swamp.  The Indiana financier who apparently bilked his clients of millions, was later found in pup tent in a park, his wrists slashed muttering, “death, death”.  And in Louisiana Danny Pratt confessed to the murder of his 2 1/2 year old son after initially telling police that the child had been kidnapped by gunmen.  Pratt’s motive? He did not wish to pay child support.

(Add to the list Chicago real-estate powerbroker Steven L Good and German billionaire Adolph Merkle who both took their lives earlier this month)
So what do these cases tell us, if anything?  They all are about money, and they all involve some elaborate and extreme plans to get out of what the perpetrators considered very desperate situations.  Also, money woes are effecting everyone: the very rich, middle class and very poor.
Last week NPR weighed in on the subject with a report from financial historian John Steele Gordon who called the correlate between money-strain and suicide “factoids” and “bunk”.  Gordon claimed psychologists have no evidence that the suicide rate goes up in tough economic times (though he was unable to provide any data).  This led to a backlash of complaints from listeners:  

“Your blithe guest needs to do his homework. “


“Mr. Gordon uses official data on suicides rates to dispel the myth, then later mentions that we shouldn’t believe official data on suicides. “

“My Great Grandfather killed himself on October 29, 1929 because of the crash. He was a banker in Syracuse, New York. He didn’t actually jump out of a window, he shot himself. But I was a little upset to hear that apparently the stock market suicides were a myth. Just because it didn’t happen right there on Wall Street doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening elsewhere.”


I don’t know the official statistics for suicide and the economy, but even if it is true that these are outliers – special cases that get all the attention while distracting us from the real facts – I do not think they should be be taken lightly. Outliers are often frontier indicators of new trends in the making. A recent spike in celebrated suicide attempts may be an indicator of a new trend in our national health picture. We would all be wise to monitor it carefully.
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