Recent weeks have seen a spate of suicides by some of the most financially powerful people in the world. German billionaire industrialist Adolf Merckle lay down in front of a train after huge investment losses threatened his family's business empire. Chicago real-estate mogul Steven Good shot and killed himself in the driver's seat of his Jaguar after the property auction business turned sour. Rene-Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet lost $1.4 billion to Bernie Madoff, went to work, took sleeping pills and slit his wrist.
The deaths bring up two questions: Is this the start of a disturbing recession-induced trend? And will it spread to rank-and-file Americans? The answers to both questions are a matter of debate. New York Magazine this week questioned whether a suicide epidemic was really taking place on Wall Street. In the blogosphere, Greenspan's Body Count--named after the former Fed chief whom many people see as partly to blame for the current economic crisis--offers a macabre tally of people who killed themselves or close family members allegedly due to economic pressures (the current tally is up to 72).
Psychologists acknowledge that gloomy financial forecasts could well result in an increase in the number of suicides over the next year. "The suicide rate has already gone up, and my suspicion is that it will not go down," says Paula Clayton, director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "There are data to substantiate a relationship between unemployment and suicide."