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Banker suicides spark concerns over mental health of finance professionals

The sun sets behind The London Skyline, featuring

The sun sets behind The London Skyline, featuring Canary Wharf, the Gherkin, the O2, Thames barrier and BT tower, after a security exercise along the River Thames on January 19, 2012, in London. Credit: Getty Images

Coroners in London are preparing to investigate two apparent suicides as unexpected deaths by finance workers around the world have raised concerns about mental health and stress levels in the industry.

The inquest into the death of William Broeksmit, 58, a retired Deutsche Bank AG risk executive found dead in his London home in January, starts Tuesday. The inquest for Gabriel Magee, 39, a vice president in tech operations at JPMorgan Chase & Co. who died Jan. 28 after falling from the 33-story London headquarters, is set for late May.

The suicides were followed by others around the world, including at JPMorgan in Hong Kong and Russell Investment Management Co. in Seattle.

The financial world's aggressive, hardworking culture may be hurting itself, say advisers on mental health in the industry.

At greatest risk are "those who have not cultivated friendships, networks, outside of their company" that can act as "safety valves," said Stewart Black, professor of global leadership at IMD, a business school in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Banks are starting to realize the scale of the problem, said Peter Rodgers, chairman of the City Mental Health Alliance in London, which counts Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Corp. among its members.

When the group was set up last year, "no one in the city was really talking" about mental health, Rodgers said. Now it has 18 firms on its list, including the Bank of England, the central bank.

The banking sector has "seen a number of initiatives" to improve staff well-being, but they "need to be accepted by a cultural change at the very top," said Rodgers.

Magee's family didn't return a phone call seeking comment. Ed Adler, a spokesman for the Manhattan-based Broeksmit Family Foundation, also didn't return a call seeking comment.

Finance "does tend to have a long-hours culture," said Emma Mamo, who leads workplace initiatives at Mind, a United Kingdom mental health charity. "People can't keep doing long hours; you need perspective and downtime."

In January, Bank of America told its junior bankers they should take some weekends off. Christian Meissner, head of global corporate and investment banking at the lender, said in a memo to employees that analysts and associates should "take a minimum of four weekend days off per month."

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