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Deaths and calls for help over financial woes rising


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POSTED: Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An out-of-work money manager in California loses a fortune and wipes out his family in a murder-suicide. A 90-year-old Ohio widow shoots herself as authorities arrive to evict her from the modest house she called home for 38 years.

In Massachusetts a housewife who had hidden her family's mounting financial crisis from her husband sends a note to the mortgage company warning, "By the time you foreclose on my house, I'll be dead."

Then Carlene Balderrama shot herself to death, leaving an insurance policy and a suicide note on a table.

Across the country, authorities are becoming concerned that the nation's financial woes could turn increasingly violent, and they are urging people to get help. In some places, mental-health hot lines are jammed, counseling services are in high demand and domestic-violence shelters are full.

"I've had a number of people say that this is the thing most reminiscent of 9/11 that's happened here since then," said the Rev. Canon Ann Malonee, vicar at Trinity Church in the heart of New York's financial district. "It's that sense of having the rug pulled out from under them."

With nowhere else to turn, many people are calling suicide-prevention hot lines. The Samaritans of New York have seen calls rise more than 16 percent in the past year, many of them money-related. The Switchboard of Miami has recorded more than 500 foreclosure-related calls this year.

"A lot of people are telling us they are losing everything. They're losing their homes, they're going into foreclosure, they've lost their jobs," said Virginia Cervasio, executive director of a suicide resource enter in Florida's Lee County.

The Hawaii Department of Health's suicide hot line received about 9,700 calls last month, a spike from the monthly average of 8,000 to 9,000 calls, said state epidemiologist Dan Galanis. It is unclear whether the increase can be tied to the financial crisis, he said, noting that calls tend to rise toward the end of the year.

Carol Lee, executive director of the Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, could not immediately say yesterday whether the agency's eight shelters had been fielding more calls since the economy began to weaken. She said while economic woes would not necessarily lead to more abuse, cases could become more violent.

"We don't believe that people become abusive for the most part because of stress of any kind," she said. "Now, if there is abuse, then of course we would expect it to be worse during times of stress."

Nationally, tragedies keep mounting:

» In Los Angeles last week a former money manager fatally shot his wife, three sons and mother-in-law before killing himself.

» In Tennessee a woman fatally shot herself last week as sheriff's deputies went to evict her from her foreclosed home.

» In Akron, Ohio, the 90-year-old widow who shot herself on Oct. 1 is recovering. A congressman told Addie Polk's story on the House floor before lawmakers voted to approve a $700 billion financial rescue package. Mortgage finance company Fannie Mae dropped the foreclosure, forgave her mortgage and said she could remain in the home.

Dr. Edward Charlesworth, a clinical psychologist in Houston, said the current crisis is breeding a sense of chronic anxiety among people who feel helpless and panic-stricken, as well as angry that their government has let them down.

"They feel like in this great society that we live in, we should have more protection for the individuals rather than just the corporation," he said.

 

Star-Bulletin reporter Alexandre Da Silva contributed to this story.