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White Male Suicides on the Rise

17 Nov 2008

By Subashni Naidoo

Suicide experts are warning that the current economic turmoil is driving an increasing number of white men to severe depression and suicide.

The SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) reports a marked increase in volumes of distress calls, particularly white men aged between 40 and 50 who are considering taking their lives.

Now the group, along with other experts, is becoming increasingly concerned that the looming festive season, during which suicides usually spike, will drive even more men over the edge.

One of Sadag's clients, a 51- year-old electrical engineer from Johannesburg, once had a multi- billion-rand business listed on the JSE. His company crashed along with Wall Street in 2001 and, hours later, the father of two girls lost his empire, followed by his up- market home, four cars, family and friends.

"I felt as if I was out in the world alone. I thought that drinking beer and whisky would help solve my problems, but instead it took me even deeper into depression," said the man, who declined to be named this week.

"Things got very difficult for me this year. I was diagnosed with manic depression and my marriage of 27 years ended. I hit rock bottom and had no reason to live."

The man said that while watching a rugby match three months ago, something inside him snapped. He started popping excessive numbers of pain killers, washed dowan with beer.
One day, he set up his study with photographs of his late parents and family.

"I placed my firearm on the desk and was prepared for anything that was going to come my way. I did not think of the consequences and all that I would leave behind. I just wanted out," he said.

"His former wife walked into the room and when she realised what was happening, she called the police who arrived and took his firearm away.

Since then, he tried desperately to find a job but says affirmative action made it impossible.

"I have banks after me every day of my life. I've been blacklisted. It's not easy for a white male, especially at my age, irrespective of my qualifications."

Sadag spokesman Janine Shamos said the man was not alone and an increasing number of white men in "critical" circumstances were crying out for help.

"It was rare to have a white male caller 10 years ago, but now we receive at least one call for help each day and it is largely as a result of the economic crisis. They are worried about their homes, kids' education and are battling to make ends meet," she said.

"They once were the breadwinners and now they are not winning. They are terrified of losing their jobs and feel trapped because they are too ashamed to reach out for help."

Many white men are so desperate that they are trying to cash in on their disability benefits.
Brian Spanier-Marson, director of retirement fund administrator Maxim Employment Benefits, said over the past few months it was receiving an increasing number of disability claims from members whose jobs were on the line and were hoping for payouts to secure permanent incomes.

Another white man on the edge is the husband of a Durban pre- school teacher who said their "perfect life" collapsed 13 years ago along with their business.

Her husband later found a job but was retrenched last year.

"He's trying desperately to find work but all doors seem to close on us. I am sending out job applications overseas without his knowledge," she said.

"He lost his car and we tried to hold on for this year with help from our family." They are now on the verge of losing their home for a second time.

The woman, who asked not to be named, said her role has changed from stay-at-home mum to sole breadwinner which her husband found humiliating.

"My mother is paying for our medical aid but we have cancelled our DStv, home telephone and all other luxuries. It is embarrassing because we are losing face in front of our children," she said.

But if the latest statistics from the National Injury Mortality Surveillance System are anything to go by, white men are not alone.

Figures show that for every woman who commits suicide in South Africa, nearly five men - across all race groups - are taking their lives.

Hilton Donson, who co-ordinated collaborative research on suicide by the Medical Research Council and Unisa, said expectations placed on men to be breadwinners in tough economic times caused them to hit rock bottom. -

Need help?Call the South African Depression and Anxiety Group: 0800 121 314 or 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393

© Sunday Times, 2008.

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