Suicide in the city

William House, Retired GP; Chair of the BHMA

Published in JHH14.3 – Men’s Health

Suicide is a catastrophe. Perhaps this is even more so when it is totally unexpected and concerns a young person. Such is often the case in suicide among City financial institutions, especially investment banking. There tends to be public disbelief that an intelligent, well educated and ‘successful’, young man could take his own life. The method of suicide is often dramatic and City banking is currently a high profile occupation in the UK, so the pain of the bereaved is intensified by the wide publicity that usually attends the tragedy. Between 2007 and 2014 an average of 33 people working in the finance industry in England and Wales committed suicide each year.. Most (85%) were male, and most will have been working in the City of London.

In a moving interview for the excellent website, Ecnmy, Jo Earle speaks with young City trader, Clark, about what his job is like. Being new to the industry he could cast the fresh eye of the novice on his experience of the culture.

Banking is full of incredibly hungry and ambitious people who drive themselves to succeed… The culture is short term … and you can get fired very quickly

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has analysed job[1]related features that carry a high risk of suicide in England and Wales. One of these is low pay and low job security. Low pay obviously does not generally apply to bankers. However, as the quotations above and below suggest, job insecurity is very much a feature of being a City trader.

You’ll get supported as long as you are worth supporting … it’s a cutthroat environment.

So the values of young traders are being tested in the high-pressure intensively competitive environment. They look around them to see what seems to be the norm, but this norm can shift almost imperceptibly. Several of the stories behind suicides involve a possible transgression and fear of being ‘hung out to dry’. Clark was able to compare this with his previous job.

In my old job, I was getting finance for a wind turbine and other important, tangible projects. In trading, now my work is much more focused towards other banks and more abstract things…. Before I had to work longer for less money. Still, at least I’d be able to have something I could tell my kids about.

The above is about values and this draws us all into the moral and existential dilemmas of this young City trader. During the interview he describes the overwhelmingly male dominance on trading floors and links this with the male competitive ethos. Men outnumber women through[1]out the financial services industry except perhaps in the lowest grades. Given that many more men than women in Britain take their own life (76% of suicides in Great Britain in 2016) a stressful industry that allows men to dominate to this extent is at best unwise. it seems likely that the pervasive male ethos is seriously unhealthy for those working within it. In Clark’s words again – said with regret:

It’s not emotional; it’s a very rational culture…

It seems to me that sectors of the financial services industry are a tragic caricature of our contemporary monetised society, where motivation comes not so much from intrinsic values but from the cut,throat competition described by Clark. Such extrinsic motivation becomes a recipe for mental and physical ill-health. Where is generosity of spirit and humility? What could matter more than these intrinsic values? The answer is in the phrase that characterised Bill Clinton’s successful election campaign in 1992: ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’

If you have been affected by this article these organisations are there to help:

Samaritans: tel. 08457 90 90 90 or CALM: tel. 0800 585858 or U Can Cope A video to give hope for those feeling low or suicidal

Useful links for male suicide:

Men’s Health Forum: