Sometimes warning signs are hard to see. Those who knew local businessman Gil Weber knew that the economic downturn had dealt him and his mortgage business a hard blow, but they did not foresee that his desperation would compel him to take his own life in his Broadway office.
He did so, by the way, with a .22-caliber pistol. He was not armed with a high-powered rifle as originally was reported to police, according to sources close to Weber.
Neighbors and friends of financially strained Freddie Mac CFO David Kellermann knew that he was working too hard, that he was under too much pressure and that he was losing weight because of the stress.
People interviewed by the press did not think of suicide as a possibility. Kellermann hanged himself in his upscale home in northern Virginia on Wednesday.
There is little doubt that the downward spiral of today’s economy is upping the risk factor for suicide.
“What I think happens is that people facing a financial crisis sit down and look at their options on how to get out of this mess, and unfortunately things are so bad right now that some of them are seeing suicide as one of those options,” said the Rev. Bob Carlson, president of Penobscot Community Healthcare.
Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia says his department has not had an increase in suicide calls, but Carlson said he is seeing more people becoming very desperate.
In Akron, Ohio, a 90-year-old widow attempted suicide when she was about to be evicted from her home. In Los Angeles, a former money manager shot his wife, three sons, his mother-in-law and himself as he faced financial ruin.
The stories are everywhere. There’s even a Web site that chronicles them as “Greenspan’s Body Count,” blaming Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, for the current plight of the U.S. economy. The Web site lists the stories of 79 people who allegedly killed themselves because of economic hardships. Gil Weber is on that list.
But research strongly indicates that suicide is rarely the result of just one major life event. It’s much more complicated.
“Financial concerns can contribute to suicide risk, but it does not cause it,” said Carrie Horne, assistant director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Maine. “Generally, there is a significant underlying issue.”
That could be a mental health issue such as depression or a substance abuse problem, she said.
Carlson noted this week that suicide risks are cumulative.
“What’s the single most frequent problem with marriages dissolving? Finances. And that’s in good times. In tough times it’s heightened. Those problems sometimes lead to substance abuse and depression, and people start to isolate. Those things add up and make suicide much more of a risk,” he said.
When the stock market crashed in 1929, tales were told of businessmen leaping to their deaths from New York high-rises. Most of those stories were myth. What is true, however, is that the highest number of suicides on record in the U.S. occurred in 1933 during the height of the Great Depression.
At greatest risk during such times? Working-age men.
It’s a difficult thing for people to contemplate that someone they love might be having suicidal thoughts. The pain and guilt and unanswered questions can be overwhelming for family members.
It’s important, too, to remember that 99 percent of the people facing tough economic times are not going to choose death by suicide as an option.
But here are a few warning signs if you or someone you know is concerned:
ä Thinking or talking about suicide.
ä An increase in or excessive substance abuse.
ä A sense of purposelessness.
ä Anxiety, agitation and insomnia.
ä Feelings of being trapped.
ä Isolation from friends and family.
ä Becoming unusually angry.
ä Acting reckless.
ä Mood swings.
According to the Association for Suicide Prevention, you should call 911 or seek immediate help from a mental health professional if someone is talking about or threatening to hurt or kill himself; looking for ways to kill himself by seeking access to firearms, pills, etc.; or if someone is talking or writing about death, dying or suicide.
Help also is available by contacting a mental health professional or calling a national suicide hot line at 800-273-TALK or a Maine-based hot line at 888-568-1112.