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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wall Street Pressure Takes Its Toll

NEW YORK -- Gregory Manto toyed with thoughts of suicide during his six-year career as a stock broker -- and he wasn't alone in the pressure-cooker world of Wall Street.

"All had the same kind of feelings about depression and stress: You are never ever happy with yourself," the 31-year-old Brooklyn native said. "If I was making $100,000, I wanted to be making $200,000. If I was making $200,000, I wanted to make $300,000."

Stock brokers rarely put their anxiety into words. The job demands at least the appearance of a cool head with split-second decisions commandeering millions of dollars each day. The male-dominated field shies away from an open dialogue about "feelings," a word that can trigger groans from men in any profession.

Manto, though, found an outlet for his frustration by participating in a study of Wall Street's culture, hoping that it would help others deal with the huge stress load, which became even heavier after the devastating attacks of Sept. 11.

The research effort was headed by doctoral candidate Alden Cass, who is studying Wall Street by immersing himself in its culture -- a world dominated by money, fear and greed.

The 26-year-old Cass, set to receive his doctorate in clinical psychology in July, took on the mission of identifying and helping troubled brokers at a time when Wall Street was riding high and unwilling to deal with anyone who wasn't enjoying the party. After two years of bear-market trading and the Sept. 11 attacks, Wall Street, too, is searching for answers.

"This is an at-risk population that is completely under-noticed and under-served," Cass said, becoming one of the first champions of a group rarely thought of as in need of a helping hand.

Cass, working with depressed patients as a student at Florida's Nova Southeastern University in 1999, noticed a 25-year-old friend exhibit depressive symptoms after he began to work as a broker. The friend, so rattled that he made idle threats against executives with tanking stocks in his chats with Cass, quit after one year.

"I watched as my friend turned from this laid-back, easy-going, fun-loving kind of guy to someone whose mood seems to parallel that of my patients," he said. "He wasn't laughing anymore."

Cass headed to Manhattan to determine whether his friend was part of a bigger trend. Cass grabbed coffee with brokers and joined them in downtown bars, fitting in with his clean-cut looks, business suit and brief case. He admitted to brokers he was a psychology student, but still kept in their good graces.

After a month of field work, Cass asked human resources at brokerage houses to help him with a study that would gauge the strain on their brokers. But admitting to any weakness in personnel that handle piles of cash with split-second decisions was not an enticing proposition.

"It was impossible to break through," Cass said, finally using cold calls to gather 26 male brokers from top brokerage houses. He discovered through a questionnaire that 23 percent of the men met the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of major depression, versus 7 percent in the typical male population.

"There are a lot of highs and lows," said Woody Dorsey, who has long studied psychology to track the market swings as a behavioral economist at research firm Market Semiotics. "You are in a field where the potential for emotional swings is greater than any other field. It's like entering an emergency room or something like that."

Despite rallies fueled by "irrational exuberance" and "e-greed" and sell-offs inspiring names like the "Great Depression" and "Black Monday," Wall Street has always been reluctant to admit the market can take a toll on staff in the trenches.

"The markets are made up only of people,' Dorsey said. "As we recognize that markets are psychological, the most obvious inference has to be the participants' psychology -- as individuals -- is also very important."

Troubled by the high rate of depression in his study and the Sept. 11 attacks that destroyed the heart of New York's financial district, Cass founded a firm called Schachter Cass Associates to help brokerages identify and treat brokers suffering from problems like depression and anxiety.

After all, his study revealed that the 26 stock brokers spend an average of 12 hours at work, smoked on average about two packs of cigarettes, and downed almost two drinks each day. The individuals reported suffering from either the flu or a virus about four times per year.

Manto, one of the 26 men who took part in Cass's 1999 study, decided to change his life after Sept. 11. He began working as a financial planner by 2002, ridding himself of the minute-by-minute stress of selling stock and helping people plan for a comfortable life.

"You've got to make a difference now, or when are you?" he said.