In this video, we are going to be talking about suicide in the business world.
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The Growing Problem of Suicide
There is a growing problem in the business world that is sad and shocking: the growing rate of suicide. Recently we have seen the tragic suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, that both took the world by surprise. The CDC released statistics that show suicide rates are up 30% in half of US states since 1999. (https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/suicide/index.html) We also know that business owners report higher levels of stress and mental health conditions compared to other workers (2018 study. Small Business Economics journal).
This is something they do not teach you about in business school. In fact, if you have gone through business school, I am betting no one mentioned suicide to you even once. Why is no one talking about this? I think there is a couple of reasons. First, it is a hard problem to understand. These are situations with people who are rich, successful, and in a position to have the best experiences life has to offer. And they choose to kill themselves. So it is a hard problem to figure out, and there is not any easy answers. Second, there is an expectation put on people who work in the business world to be invincible. You are in a job with a lot of stress and you are expected to be able to handle it without showing signs of weakness. I know I feel that pressure to be invincible, and I am sure you do as well. When the reality is you are human, just like everyone else. And you have frailties, just like everyone else.
I am not a psychologist. I cannot give a solution or an explanation to the growing number of suicides. My whole goal here is to just talk about it. I know there are business people out there struggling, and they do not have anyone to talk to.
So what I am going to do is to share a story from my own experience. The only reason I can talk about this on camera, is because it happened so long ago, and depression is not something I normally struggle with. But I do not care who you are, everyone goes through difficult moments in their life. This was my darkest moment.
This happened when I was 21. I was going to college at USC (The University of Southern California in Los Angeles). This is going to be a bad story, so please do not take this as negative criticism of USC. USC is an incredible school and I had many great experiences there. This was just one negative experience I had.
Basically, I was falsely accused of tampering with the fire alarm system in university housing. The investigation was handled very poorly, and my life spiraled out of control. I was in my campus apartment one night and I suddenly heard a knock at the door. I was surprised to find the campus police. They explained the wires in the fire alarm had been cut in the hallway outside my apartment, and they asked if I did it. Of course I did not. I was completely confused, but they insisted on searching my apartment.
You have to understand that this was a private security force. USC is a private school, and I lived in university housing. So if you break the rules, you can get kicked out of school. And of course, messing with the fire alarm is a major offense. It endangers the lives of all the students in the building. So I wasn’t given a choice. The campus police searched my apartment. They did not find anything of course. But they let me know the investigator would be in touch.
The next day, I was instructed to come to the station and be interrogated. I was so confused at this point because I was just sitting in my apartment. I was a good student, I got good grades, I did not do drugs. I did not understand what was happening to me. How could they think I had something to do with this, just based on the fact that the alarm was in the hall outside my apartment. It was like I was in a suspense film that was a case of mistaken identity, and I was the prime suspect for a crime I did not commit.
They ended up calling me for three interrogation sessions, and they were pretty intense. Basically I was given a choice. They thought that I was guilty. They wanted me to sign a confession or they would kick me out of college. Because it was a private institution, there was no judge, jury, due process, and the private police force had no accountability.
As the interrogations were going on, I was finding out more information. It turns out the police had also searched my neighbor’s apartment (who I had never met); It turns out my neighbors were architecture students who knew how the fire alarm system worked. It also turns out the police found wire cutters sitting on the kitchen table in their apartment. It also turns out they found drugs in the apartment. And finally, one of these neighbors eventually confessed to cutting the wires. And the reason they did it was because they wanted to smoke drugs and they did not want the alarms to go off. So I am thinking this is a pretty obvious case, but the campus police was still convinced that I was involved and threatening to expel me.
Looking back on it, I bet my neighbors tried to put the blame on me by saying “My neighbor did it.” That’s the only thing that makes sense, because there was no evidence I was involved in any way.
What Was at Stake
You have to understand my position. I was devastated. I was a poor kid and USC was an expensive school. I gave up everything to go to USC. I did not have the money to go there. I had taken out a large amount of loans to pay for it. And I was three years into college. So if I got kicked out, I would have an enormous amount of debt, and nothing to show for it. It would have destroyed my life. This one investigator was going to decide who was guilty in the case, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I was a really driven kid. If you are a high performer, which most business people are, when your career crumbles around you, it is devastating. This was everything I had worked and sacrificed for. What made this situation so painful was that I was helpless. Usually in bad situations, there is something you can do to start working your way out of it. But here there was nothing I could do. I did not have a voice. I could not get a lawyer. I could not fight it. It was up to someone else to decide the rest of my life. I have been through much worse situations than this in my life, but never where I felt so helpless. It was the helpless feeling that crushed my soul.
I really struggled. To be honest, I thought about killing myself. My life was going to be over, because of something I had nothing to do with. I made plans. I thought about how I was going to do it. Thinking back on that time, the situation was so oppressive that I was not thinking straight. I could not make sense of what was going on, and so it was as if the connections in my brain were not firing.
Ultimately, I did not kill myself. Making videos saved my life. I was in Los Angeles, and I was already working on a number of film projects. So I had a lot of creative outlets to express my inner turmoil. That helped a lot. To the credit of USC, they eventually dropped all charges against me. I am so happy I made it through that situation, because since then I have had so many incredible experiences that I would have missed out on.
The Real Problem
Let us talk about the main point of this story. I have not told this story to anyone until today in this video. This was a traumatic event that happened to me over 15 years and I never mentioned it to anyone. Because as a young man trying to make it in the business world, these are the types of things we do not feel it is okay to talk about. That is the problem. As a business community, we never talk about this. How come in business school, they never tell you about struggling with mental issues.
I am here to say, if you are having a hard time, it is okay. Everyone goes through hard times. There are a lot of services out there that can help you. There is a lot of free counseling available even. If you are dealing with high stress, sometimes two or three sessions with a therapist might be all that you need.
If you made it this far in the video, I want to say thank you for watching. Whatever you are dealing with in your life, I send you hope and a big hug. If you found this video helpful, go ahead and hit the like button, and the subscribe button. It will help more people see this video. As always, the best way to super charge a business is through accounting and corporate finance, and I release a new video every week, so come back and check out next week’s video.
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Neither Zach De Gregorio or Wolves and Finance Inc. shall be liable for any damages related to information in this video. It is recommended you contact a CPA in your area for business advice.