Shame, not loss, prompts prominent suicides: experts

Wed Jan 7, 2009 4:10pm EST
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By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) - Deep feelings of shame rather than material losses were probably behind the suicide of German billionaire Adolf Merckle and some other prominent casualties of the global financial crisis, according to mental health experts.

Merckle, who threw himself in front of a train near his home on Monday in despair over huge investment losses, has joined a lengthening list of high-profile investors around the world to take their own lives.

"An industrialist losing a fortune on the stock market has different motives for killing himself than a father with six children who loses his job," said Detlev Liepmann, professor of economic psychology at Berlin's Free University.

"Merckle's livelihood was certainly not threatened by his risky investments but he was threatened by shame, a loss of face in society and a loss of honor," said Liepmann.

Before 74-year-old Merckle, who was ranked as Germany's fifth-richest person by Forbes magazine, French money manager Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet was found dead last month in his New York office; his wrists were slit with box cutters.

The co-founder of money manager Access International was reportedly distraught about losing up to $1.4 billion in client money to Bernard Madoff's alleged fraud.

"People like Merckle may be highly motivated but also highly sensitive," said Gerrit Grahl, a psychotherapist in Frankfurt's banking quarter who treats 400 patients a year -- with managers and bankers now outnumbering all professions combined.

"It's unfortunate he killed himself because he could have been treated. Many other people in the same spot would say 'to hell with it'. They'd look to save their own tail and wouldn't think of killing themselves no matter what happens."   Continued...

<p>A German police officer walks near the railway track at the site where German billionaire Adolf Merckle committed suicide the previous day near his hometown Blaubeuren, near the southern German city of Ulm January 6, 2009. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay</p>