Stress & The City: Dead girl's father on suicide watch

The Izaga family tragedy turns spotlight on City's long-hours culture
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The Independent Online

Stress or depression forces more people to take time off than any other ailment save for bad backs. No fewer than 10.5 million working days are lost to stress in Britain every year, costing the economy an estimated £4bn.

Most of those absentees are at least facing up to their problem, and, in the main, are seeking help. In the macho confines of the City, where sexism, racist discrimination and homophobia are rampant enough, it is a different story.

Witness the tragic story of Alberto Izaga. A board member of Swiss Re, the insurance giant that occupies London's Gherkin building, Izaga, 36, was this week sectioned under the Mental Health Act after allegedly beating his two-year-old daughter, Yanire, to death. Neighbours heard screams and called the police to the couple's £1.5m apartment in the Parliament View complex opposite Westminster last Sunday.

Police are treating the death as murder. Izaga, 36, has been put on suicide watch in a secure psychiatric unit, which means he cannot be questioned for at least three weeks. A Scotland Yard source said: "He is in no fit state yet."

Izaga, who headed Swiss Re's life and health products division, was a City high-flyer. He sat on the board of the industry's lobby group, and was often to be found still desk-bound late into the night.

While detectives and medical specialists will piece together the reasons behind the tragedy, it has nonetheless thrown the spotlight on to the unforgiving work practices in the City.

One recent survey, by the financial recruitment agency Robert Half, showed that Docklands, home to the major banks, was the most stressful place to work, with 54 per cent feeling the pressure. And one-quarter of those City workers questioned on behalf of Together, the charity formerly know as the Mental After Care Association, said they knew someone whose mental well-being had suffered due to workplace stress. One-fifth said they thought stress-related problems at work had got worse.

Just last month, an inquest heard how Matthew Courtney, 27, a lawyer at Freshfields, had been working fearsomely long hours before he fell to his death from the seventh floor at Tate Modern this year. He had been diagnosed as manic depressive seven years before.

Experts worry that despite a legal obligation to look after employees' psychological well-being, City firms are not doing enough to encourage staff to seek help. "In the City there is a stigma of putting up your hand and saying 'I need some help'. It is a very macho culture, a very competitive culture," said Andrew Kinder, who heads the counselling at work division of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.

One view is that the City attracts the sort of people who are most likely to buckle under extreme stress. Debbie Harrison, a visiting fellow at the Cass Business School, thinks first-class graduates suffer most because they are used to "an academic environment and not the commercial world".

Most likely to crack? She singles out "men who marry the 'trophy' wife and have kids in public schools, with high expectations of both work and family" as the most likely to crack. Often, the most valuable members are most at risk.

It is surely no coincidence that there are more Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous meetings in the City than anywhere else. Yet where those attending remain in their highly stressed jobs, recovery can be difficult. The lesson, though, is clear: if you are foundering, don't stick your head in the sand and pretend you're coping. Get help.

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