Ask Dr. Helen: Suicide, Men, and Money

We have all heard in recent months about executives taking their lives for financial reasons. David Kellerman is an example:

Investigators say that the acting chief financial officer for Freddie Mac may have killed himself. While officials cannot confirm the reason, it may have been due to stress related to the company's financial troubles.

In 16 years, Kellerman rose through the ranks at Freddie Mac. He capped his career by trying to untangle the company's financial woes. But the stress may have been too much.

Kellerman, 41, was found dead in his Virginia home from an apparent suicide by hanging.

Apparently, a number of professional men are feeling the strain of the financial crisis and are opting out, sometimes taking their family with them:

Financial stress has people all over the country feeling the pressure. Police in Maryland are investigating a bizarre murder suicide. While in New York, a lawyer suspected of bilking investors out of millions reportedly killed himself, his wife and two children.

Other similar stories across the nation include a money manager who slit his wrists, a former Bear Stearns analyst who jumped out of a 29th story window and a hedge fund manager who suffocated himself. Houston is not immune to these types of suicides.

In January, a financial advisor jumped off of a downtown building, leaving behind a wife and three children.

Notice the pattern: the majority of suicides are men. In 2001, there were 24,672 men who killed themselves vs. 5,950 women. Seventy-three percent of all suicide deaths are white males. A growing trend is middle-aged men committing suicide:

Before 1999, the U.S. suicide rate had declined for 13 years. The new numbers are especially puzzling because other research has found that for most people, middle age  "is a time of relative security and emotional well-being,'' Baker and her colleagues wrote in their paper. Their analysis was based on death reports compiled by an injury prevention program of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even six years of consistent increase in the suicide rate among the middle-aged is "not a long enough period of time to get terribly concerned about,'' said Lanny Berman, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology, a nonprofit research group based in Washington D.C. He said it can take years to identify definitive trends and causes and there was no clear reason why the suicide rate rose among the middle-aged.

Still, Berman said he fears the struggling economy could accelerate the trend.  "We know that unemployment affects suicide rates and that when people feel a severe economic strain, suicide rates tend to increase among people experiencing that strain,'' he said in a telephone interview today.

I do not mean to belittle women's depression and stress over financial problems, but men in large numbers and in a variety of jobs are bearing the brunt of unemployment. Approximately 80% of the unemployed today are men.