Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Suicide & Wall Street

I wouldn't say it's quite like the myth regarding the Crash of 1929, when people were allegedly throwing themselves out of windows in New York City, but this rather irresponsible article in today's Times suggests that the recent downturn in the markets has led to an increase in suicide around the country.

Across the country, authorities are becoming concerned that the nation's financial woes could turn increasingly violent, and they are urging people to get help. In some places, mental-health hot lines are jammed, counseling services are in high demand and domestic-violence shelters are full.

''I've had a number of people say that this is the thing most reminiscent of 9/11 that's happened here since then,'' said the Rev. Canon Ann Malonee, vicar at Trinity Church in the heart of New York's financial district. ''It's that sense of having the rug pulled out from under them.''

With nowhere else to turn, many people are calling suicide-prevention hot lines. The Samaritans of New York have seen calls rise more than 16 percent in the past year, many of them money-related. The Switchboard of Miami has recorded more than 500 foreclosure-related calls this year.

It's not yet clear there is a statistical link between suicides and the financial downturn since there is generally a two-year lag in national suicide figures. But historically, suicides increase in times of economic hardship. And the current financial crisis is already being called the worst since the Great Depression.
And this is sloppy logic. While the article gives a variety of anecdotes and examples of suicides related to the downturn which are disturbing to read, the fact remains we can't really be sure there is a clear correlation between the two, nor do we know if these "jammed" hot lines might not be indicative of something else.

As with investor psychology and contagion theory (which posits that most of this financial crisis is the product of old fashioned "herd mentality" and panic), everyone should take a deep breath and pause before concluding that suicide is an increasingly available option to the financially distressed.

With so many people being affected by this downturn, the last thing we need is hastily written articles indicating yet another "trend" that may in fact be false.

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