几天前，一位华尔街高管因为能不能请会儿假去上城区看心理医生与别人发生争执。在一个繁忙的工作日，这看似不太可能。随后，这位高管碰巧看到了《纽约邮报》（New York Post）上一则让人闹心的消息，内容是摩根大通（J.P. Morgan Chase）香港员工跳楼身亡。就在三周前，摩根大通另一名工作人员也从该行伦敦总部楼顶一跃而下。《纽约邮报》这篇文章的题目是《摩根大通几周内连续爆出三起员工神秘自杀身亡事件》。
自杀事件集中出现，受到震撼的不仅是华尔街。《纽约邮报》提到的第三起死亡事件看起来不像是自杀——摩根大通一位执行董事今年1月份死在康涅狄格州的家里（死因报告尚未公布）。其实，去年8月底以来，金融行业至少已有六人自杀，摩根大通的员工死亡事件只是出现的最晚而已。发生同样悲剧的还有苏黎世保险集团（Zurich Insurance Group）、德意志银行（Deutsche Bank）和Russell Investments等公司。
银行业人员自杀不是什么新鲜事。上世纪30年代大萧条以及最近一次的经济大衰退期间，银行业人员都曾接二连三地自杀。实际上可以这么说，相关研究已经证明自杀会传染。美国自杀学协会（American Association of Suicidology）指出，情况确实如此，有关自杀的图片和煽情报道会引起他人的效仿。因此，最近这些不合时宜的死亡事件已经开始让人们担心可能还会有人自杀。摩根大通发言人乔•埃万杰利斯蒂表示，公司已经通知员工，摩根大通可以随时为他们提供精神健康方面的帮助，而且公司对已故员工的家属深表同情。
为了找到答案，本刊邀请美国疾病控制与预防中心（Centers for Disease Control and Prevention）从它的国家职业死亡率监测数据库中调出了最新的自杀数据。近些年来，相关研究获得资金支持并且有数据可循的年份包括1999、2003、2004和2007年。在这四个年份中，有329名金融业从业者自杀，超过了该中心跟踪的其他任何行业。只有“工程师和科学家”这个大类出现了502名自杀者，多于金融业。
以摩根大通为例，这家银行全球员工总数超过26万人，出现两起自杀事件可能显得很吓人而且毫无规律，但实际上，这个数字完全符合统计概率。有两名员工自杀甚至可能属于较低水平。宾夕法尼亚大学（University of Pennsylvania）管理学教授亚历山德拉•米歇尔曾在高盛（Goldman Sachs）投行部门任职。她目前正在进行一项研究，因此12年来一直在跟踪两家华尔街银行（她不能透露这两家银行的名称）一批新雇员的表现和健康情况。米歇尔说：“他们的工作时间很长，外界会对他们有这样的看法，人们会认为他们自杀的频率要高得多。”
A few days ago, a Wall Street executive was debating whether he could get away from the office long enough to see his shrink uptown. In the midst of a busy workday, it was looking unlikely. Then he stumbled across an article in the New York Post with the disquieting news that a J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM) employee had jumped to his death from the bank's offices in Hong Kong, just three weeks after a fellow banker at the firm had committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the bank's London headquarters. "JPMorgan suicide is 3rd mysterious death in weeks," read the Post headline.
The executive went to his appointment. "He said, 'That's what drove me into your office today, I want to make sure that I'm all right,'" says Alden Cass, the psychologist who treats the executive, as well as a bunch of clients who are portfolio managers, investment bankers, and traders of all types.
The rash of suicides has sent a shudder through Wall Street and beyond. The third death referenced by the Post—that of a J.P. Morgan executive director who died inside his Connecticut home in January—did not appear to be intentional. (A report is still pending.) Yet the J.P. Morgan incidents are only the most recent in a string of at least a half-dozen suicides in the financial world since late August. Those include executives at Zurich Insurance Group (ZURVY), Deutsche Bank (DB), and Russell Investments, among other firms.
Banker suicides aren't a new phenomenon. Clusters of them in quick succession occurred during the Great Depression and during the recent Great Recession. Indeed, research has shown that suicides can be contagious, so to speak. That is particularly true when graphic and sensational reports of the fatalities lead to copycats, according to the American Association of Suicidology. So the recent untimely deaths have sparked concerns that there could be more on the way. J.P. Morgan spokesman Joe Evangelisti says the company has sent notices reminding employees that 24/7 mental health-related support resources are available at the bank, and that its hearts go out to the families of the deceased.
But with each new wave of suicides come questions about whether the deaths signify a disturbing trend: Is finance a potentially deadly occupation? That is, do bankers kill themselves more often than other people?
To find out, Fortune asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to pull the latest suicide statistics from its National Occupational Mortality Surveillance database. During 1999, 2003, 2004, and 2007—the most recent years during which research was funded and for which data is available—there were 329 suicides among financial specialists, more than in any other occupation tracked by the CDC except for the broad grouping of "engineers and scientists," a cohort that lost 502 to suicide.
Finance, however, is a vast profession, and while the total number of finance professionals who commit suicide may be larger than for some other professions, they are actually less likely to do so than, say, lawyers or firefighters.
Take J.P. Morgan as an example: At a bank with more than 260,000 employees around the globe, a pair of suicides may seem shocking and random but the figure is, in fact, well within the range of statistical probability. Two might even be a low number. "You would expect that when people work these long hours," says Alexandra Michel, a former Goldman Sachs (GS) investment banker turned management professor at the University of Pennsylvania who for 12 years has been tracking the performance and health of a group of Wall Street recruits at two banks (she can't say which) in an ongoing study. "You would think that it would happen much more often."