Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When Financial Despair Turns Deadly

When clearing out my emails I came across an interesting article that was published on January 30, 2009 in Canada's Globe and Mail entitled: When a family's financial despair turns deadly.

The article pertains to the number of recent cases of murder-suicide in cases where the family was facing financial despair. These are very sad cases and do not directly connect to the issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide, other than the fact that when this recently happened in Thunder Bay (Fonteese case) the media inappropriately treated it as a possible precedent case in favour of assisted suicide.

I am also concerned that in jurisdictions where euthanasia and assisted suicide become common that reasons for the act, might in some circumstances, might be related to the emotional and psychological stress that is caused by the economic downturn. Especially in jurisdictions where concern for the mental health of the person has become secondary.

The article states:
As the economic downturn deepens, some individuals are resorting to murder-suicide to escape job loss, foreclosure and bankruptcy

It is a grim indicator of the depth of despair the economic downturn has wrought: a rare spate of murder-suicides in which entire families have been killed by desperate parents suffocating beneath hopelessness and debt.

This week alone, the United States witnessed the gruesome demise of two more households in which an executive decision was made to give up on fighting against the depressing cycle of foreclosures, bankruptcies, evictions and layoffs.

The article then referred to several Canadian cases:
On New Year's Day, a couple in Chicoutimi, Que., struggling with bankruptcy, joblessness and bleak financial prospects, allegedly plotted a family suicide that left the 46-year-old father, and three children, ages 12, 7 and 4, dead. The mother, 34-year-old Cathy Gauthier-Lachance survived; she is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and assisting the suicide of her husband.

In Toronto, a father under pressure to meet increasing health-care bills for two ailing kin snapped in November, a day after a steep stock market drop. He killed himself, his wife and two grown children.

The article then looks into the growing problem of murder-suicide related to financial distress:
While researchers have long pointed to a connection between financial hardship and the onset of mental disorders, mental health experts are concerned that a new trend in extreme familicide - in which entire families sometimes lose their lives - may be emerging, with strong ties to the economic meltdown.

"When we look back at the end of 2009, I would be surprised if we did not see an increase. All the fundamentals are there," said John Bradford, associate chief of forensic psychiatry with the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group and a professor of psychiatry and criminology at the University of Ottawa and Queen's University.

By fundamentals, Dr. Bradford means "the bleak economic news, people losing their jobs, losing their homes, having nothing to look forward to."

The feelings of failure, insecurity, guilt and shame that accompany the items on that list often lead to stress, which in turn leads to depression, even in people with no history of mental disorder. For some people, Dr. Bradford said, financial pressures can transform depression into a form of desperation that can lead to suicide.

However, only among a rare few do suicidal thoughts morph into the nihilistic delusion, that an entire family should be killed.

"You basically have this delusional idea that somehow the world is coming to an end, there is great suffering, there is nothing we can do about it," said David Bloom, director of psychotic disorders at Montreal's Douglas Mental Health University Institute. "The best thing to do is leave the world and take those you love the most with you to avoid further suffering on their part."

Dr. Bloom said that males more often exhibit the nihilistic delusions that push them over the psychotic edge, although rarely are the murders committed out of anger. "It's a hopelessness," he said. "I have no more means with which to fight this problem. The only solution is suicide. They wouldn't even see it as murder. They would take it as 'I'm saving them from a terrible thing.' "

As for what triggers "the switch" that enables psychotic behaviour, that is more difficult to pinpoint. The key problem is that in most cases, the only people who know the answer are dead.

Link to the original article:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090130.weconocide30/BNStory/International/

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