January 7th, 2009
07:38 AM ET

Despair after the downturn? Get help now

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Editor's Note: German billionaire Adolf Merckle, one of the richest men in the world, committed suicide on Monday after his business empire got into trouble in the wake of the international financial crisis, Merckle's family said. Police said Merckle, 74, was hit by a train. His family said the economic crisis had "broken" Merckle.

Gail Saltz
AC360° Contributor

Another highly successful and wealthy man devastated by the financial crises has taken his life. This is so tragic on so many levels. It is a demonstration of some people seeing their self worth measured in dollars. If the dollars are gone, then the feelings of shame and worthlessness take over and result in being too overwhelmed to go on.

It is also a reflection of the lack of understanding of depression and the treatments available. Those feelings of shame and hopelessness that some people are experiencing as a result of financial loss may be part of a bigger picture of major depression, a disease that can result from a traumatic loss and that can be treated and resolved. As many as 15% of people with a major depression do kill themselves and once dead, of course, there is no treatment.

Major depression causes a loss of judgment which makes that person’s ability to see that there are other things besides money worth living for….like family and friends... impossible to recognize. Hopefully, family or friends are exactly who will notice that the person is depressed and needs help. Suicide is not always preventable, but if someone gets a depressed person into a hospital or to a psychiatrist, it may be able to be delayed until they get treatment and get better.

We, as a society, have placed excessive value on money and tremendous financial success. The data show that in reality happiness only correlates with income at lower levels . After $50,000 per year, the correlation grows flat and other issues such as health and relationships have a greater correlation.

Nonetheless, suicide hotlines are getting more calls and I fear that these two prominent businessmen’s suicides will not be the last of such reactions to the economic downturn. Many people equate money earned with how important they are or how much they are valued by others. This means that the huge numbers of people losing jobs are struggling with not only the loss of income but the loss of self worth.

This is the time to reach out to anyone in such a boat and let them know that you value them. Supporting one another, recognizing when someone needs emotional help and having a low threshold for asking if they are really down is important during a recession. One day the economy will turn around. Make sure your loved ones will be there to see it by getting help today.

Filed under: Economy • Gail Saltz • Raw Politics
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Teresa, OH

    While I am sorry for the grieving family and friends for the death of the MAN, I cannot feel any sympathy for billionaires who get depressed over having connected their self-worth to their billions. There is also a correlation with how RICH people view people who make under $50,000 per year as losers.

    I think we haven't seen the end of the suicides over this economy.

    "Money is a cruel Master, but a kind Servant." Know who you serve.

    January 7, 2009 at 11:11 am |
  2. Annie Kate

    Besides the money, you can get so involved with your work that it seems to be the only thing that defines you, especially if it is a demanding job with lots of long hours and little time for the pursuit of other interests. Then if you lose the job by lay-off, retirement, business closing, or disability, you have this big hole in your life where the job was and you aren't sure how to fill it and you get depressed and lose interest in all the things you had always wished you could do if you just had the time. This happened to me – I didn't care about the money so much except that it paid the bills but I did care about feeling useful and knowing that I did a good job for my employer. I got help but there are still days that aren't as good as others.

    January 7, 2009 at 10:11 am |