Losses are too much to bear for high fliers in the financial crisis

Adolf Merckle is the richest, but he is not the first to become overwhelmed by the pressures being inflicted on people across the world by the credit crisis. In the UK, the City was shocked in September when the New Zealand-born Kirk Stephenson, 47, apparently threw himself in front of a train in Buckinghamshire. He was COO of Olivant, a private equity firm that a year earlier was among the potential bidders for Northern Rock. An inquest heard that Mr Stephenson faced "considerable financial loss" and had become more tense. He left a wife and child.

In the US, some of the investors with the self-confessed swindler Bernard Madoff have seen their lives destroyed by the revelation that they had put their life savings with a man behind Wall Street's biggest fraud. Twelve days after Mr Madoff's arrest, one of his biggest clients was found dead at his desk in Manhattan. René-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet had funnelled $1.4bn of his own and clients' money into Mr Madoff's business. In a note to his brother written before his death, M. de la Villehuchet, 65, one of the most prominent Frenchmen on Wall Street, said he needed to be held accountable.

"People choose to commit suicide when their wealth and power is the key element of their identity and they have few other psychological resources," says Vatsal Thakkar, a psychiatrist at New York University.

Stock market losses have spread the pain to others. A trader, Paulo Silva, 36, shot himself on the floor of the Brazilian stock exchange in November. The gathering recession and a rise in unemployment threatens an unhappy new year for many more.