When economic stress proves too much

The reported suicide of acting Freddie Mac (FRE) Chief Financial Officer David Kellermann puts a human face on the damage the recession has taken on the American psyche.

Kellermann, 41, apparently was uneasy about the publicity he got after it was reported that he received an $800,000 bonus from the troubled mortgage giant. The New York Times reported that Kellermann had hired a private security firm after reporters came to his house to ask him about his bonus. He also might have felt under pressure because of an ongoing investigation into Freddie Mac's accounting, though it is not clear whether he was under particular suspicion.

All an outside observer can do at this point is speculate. Even those closest to Kellermann may never understand why he took his own life. But rest assured that Kellermann's situation is far from unique. The greatest economic crisis has obliterated people's self esteems along with their bank accounts. Calls to suicide hotlines are up. It's little wonder that the one business that is booming on Wall Street is therapy.

Sudeepta Varma, medical director of the New York's World Trade Center Mental Health Program, sees people struggling under the psychological pressures of the recession. This does not mean a boon for her business since many of the people in dire need of help lack health insurance because they are unemployed.

"They are taking jobs they considered beneath them," said Varma, who estimates that about 20 percent of her patients work in Wall Street which is nearby. "I find that alcohol has become more of a problem for people who are not big drinkers."

Clients are becoming depressed and irritable, distancing themselves from their families. Stresses are further exacerbated because many people are working longer hours and not getting raises as they had in past years. The problems can be especially tough on Wall Street masters of the universe who find themselves out of a job.

"It's such a humbling experience," she said. "They are struggling in treatment."

Men who are used to viewing themselves as the family's breadwinner are faced with a culture that views anyone who gets psychological help as week. This is especially true in the macho culture of Wall Street. Many are choosing to suffer in silence.

"They feel helpless and hopeless," Varma said.

Some clients are caught in a vicious circle of being depressed because they are unemployed and not being able to find new employment because they are feeling blue. It's a problem with no easy answer.
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