Two recent deaths raise more questions about the high rate of suicide among investment bankers, which is 1.5 times the national average.
NEW YORK CITY — Thomas J. Hughes died of an apparent suicide last week after falling 200 feet from a Manhattan building. The deaths of Hughes and other young financial services workers are bringing renewed attention to the mortal dangers of the Wall Street world.
Hughes, a 29-year-old, who worked for the investment bank Moelis & Company, fell 24 stories to his death. His body was discovered on the morning of May 28. His father, John Hughes, told the Daily Mail that his son had been under a lot of stress.
“His work did not leave much time for enjoyment but that’s the nature of the assignment that he chose. … at a time when he was under stress he probably resorted to illegal drugs, causing this incredibly poor judgement, is probably the best I can say,” John Hughes told the Mail.
Police reportedly found cocaine at Hughes’s apartment after his death. The finance industry has a reputation for hard partying and high levels of drug use — a myth author Kevin Roose examined in his book “Young Money.”
“The stereotype is that they’re all on cocaine all the time. But actually, the most common drug I heard about people using was Adderall. These people are not taking drugs to go out and party; they’re taking drugs so that they can stay up longer and work more,” Roose told PBS Newshour last year.
Hughes’s death was the latest in a series of deaths of Wall Street workers dating back to at least 2014. The New York Times reports that Sarvshreshth Gupta, a 22-year-old Goldman Sachs investment analyst, was found dead outside his San Francisco apartment building on April 16 after he apparently jumped from the roof. Like Hughes, Gupta was under high stress — in a phone call just before his death, Gupta had told his father, Sunil, that he had not slept in two days and was feeling overwhelmed by his work load. Analysts such as Gupta often work 80 to 100 hours a week.
According to the National Occupational Mortality Surveillance, financial services workers are 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than the national average, although suicide rates are even higher among veterinarians and some medical professionals.
The suicides seem to be more than coincidental, according to the Times:
“Last February, Fortune ran an article titled: ‘Is there a suicide contagion on Wall Street?’ Studies have suggested that financial service employees are at higher risk than those in many other industries.
… It is possible that the finance industry attracts more people with depression, just as it is possible that the pressure-cooker work environment overwhelms some people who have been high achievers their entire lives. It could be a tragic combination of multiple factors. Wall Street has always thrived, in part, on its eat-or-be-eaten culture. Would curbing its competitive nature cut into its success?”
Linette Lopez, writing last year for Business Insider, speculated that the male-dominated, macho culture of Wall Street contributes to the suicide rate:
“’The personality of the alpha male makes getting help hard, and Wall Street management is still struggling to get a comfort level on confronting employees who need help,’ said one veteran trader.
The alpha male on Wall Street can work all day and party all night while still hauling in massive cash for his firm. Sometimes, they self-treat their stress with drugs and alcohol, or they blow their money on expensive whims.
‘Maybe the culture is finally breaking at the seams,’ said one young hedge fund analyst.”
Many Wall Street firms have previously made token attempts to address workplace stresses, especially after the highly publicized death of a 21-year-old Merrill Lynch intern in the summer of 2013. But even some of those changes have backfired.
“Perversely, young analysts now say that having Saturdays off has often added to their stress because late nights on Sundays have become the norm,” reported Andrew Ross Sorkin in the Times.