Example of Responsible Coverage

Tragic End: After Long Battle, A Wall Street Star Loses to Depression;
Arthur Zankel Felt 'Blackness' That Wealth, Family Ties And Drugs Couldn't Ease; Fascination With the Staircase

Monica Langley. Wall Street Journal. Jan 17, 2006

In a sensitive, informative, and moving story. Monica Langley chronicles Arthur Zankel's remarkable career as a financier, investment advisor, and philanthropist who had to struggle for over 50 years with intermittent bouts of severe depression that eventually culminated in his suicide at the age of 73. "A self- made man" who rose from "modest Brooklyn roots" to make a fortune as an investor, his first episode of depression occurred in 1954 while he was still a student at the Harvard Business school. He recovered, graduated, and went on to Wall Street and soon joined First Manhattan, an investment advisory firm, where he began his successful career as an investor in companies like Citicorp and Berkshire Hathaway and managed money for such clients as the Museum of Modern Art. In this period he met and formed a friendship with Sanford I. Weill that transcended business and remained close for the rest of Mr. Zankel's life.

A second episode of depression in the 1970s led to a psychiatric hospitalization which was not helpful and then to psychiatric treatment as an outpatient which was. The next episode occurred in 1980 and also eventually dissipated while in psychiatric treatment. An episode in 1986 was triggered by the death from cancer of his wife of thirty years with whom he had four sons. For the first time, he received antidepressants; within a few months he was able to resume his productive career.  During the next decade, Mr. Zankel had one more depressive episode that also responded quickly to a new combination of antidepressants and regular visits to a psychiatrist. Ms. Langley notes the fullness of life Mr. Zankel enjoyed despite the severity of those bouts and his struggle and ability to overcome them with medical help.

In 1996, Mr. Zankel began dating Judy Francis, 49, who worked as an illustrator. He confided in her his bouts with "grave" depression which he indicated "in the aggregate ...all lasted less than two years over his lifetime." She was reassured by the fact that "although depression had a big impact it didn't dominate his life." They married in 1997. The next seven years, according to the family and friends, were the happiest of his life. "He and Judy Zankel engaged in an active social life."

When former American Express president Sanford Weill began a new financial venture, Zankel became his "most valued advisor" and he helped the company, which is now Citigroup, become a major success. "Citigroup would not be the financial power it is 'without Arthur's influence,'" Mr. Weill is quoted as saying.

Mr. Zankel, who had been an active philanthropist throughout his career, gave the $10 million dollar lead gift for a high-tech performance auditorium at Carnegie Hall, called the Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall. His generosity on a more personal scale was illustrated by his helping through college the young man who had shined his shoes.

In the summer of 2004, however, Mrs. Zankel says her husband suddenly told her, "I'm worried . . . I'm feeling depressed." He was uncharacteristically unenergetic and socially withdrawn during the summer, and had only a transient improvement that fall with a new antidepressant medication regime. By the spring of 2005, his business and personal acquaintances could sense that something was wrong. For weeks, Mr. Zankel, now 73 years old, "hid at home while fabricating trips and excuses to avoid business and social contacts, according to his wife."

During a trip to Tuscany, his family reported that he was distant and tired, and took naps rather than sightsee. "His sons--who all recall him as an involved father who played sports with them as kids and who remained a friend and confidant as adults--say he told them individually that he was depressed again."

After returning from the trip, he had difficulty concentrating on work, and no longer enjoyed things that had formerly given him pleasure.

At lunch with Mr. Weill, he confided that he was losing his battle with depression and spoke of "a 'blackness'... that was consuming him." None of the treatments that worked in the past was now helping. Mr. Weill, a major donor to Weill Medical College of Cornell University, arranged through the school for him to be seen and medicated by a prominent psychopharmacologist. Meanwhile he continued seeing his long time psychiatrist.

This time even with a new drug treatment and continued sessions with his psychiatrist, Mr. Zankel's depression persisted and he spoke more and more of suicide to his wife, brother, and sons. He also began drop hints to his wife regarding the back stairwell to their apartment building, inquiring about the height. His family began to discuss forced inpatient treatment or hospitalization at this time.

Mrs. Zankel stopped working as an illustrator to be with him constantly, fearful of leaving him alone. She accompanied him to his last visit to his psychiatrist and afterwards, while she was speaking to the psychiatrist, he disappeared from the waiting room. She rushed home, but it was too late. He had jumped from the staircase of their 9th story apartment to the courtyard below.

Merits of This Article

This article situates Arthur Zankel's lifelong struggle with depression in the context of his accomplishments as a financier and philanthropist and his close, rewarding relationships as a husband, father and friend.  Rather than sensationalizing or romanticizing his suicide in a way that could invite copycat action, or oversimplifying the causes for the suicide, the article provides factual information about depression, while conveying that most of Mr. Zankel's depressive episodes had no identifiable precipitating event, and that despite his depression his past treatments succeeded in enabling him to have a full life.

Although the occasion for the article is Mr. Zankel's death, readers are informed that most cases of depression are treatable. Using the National Institute of Mental Health as a source, Ms. Langley notes that about 19 million people in the U.S. during any given year suffer from depression. "Advancements in the treatment of depression have helped millions and saved many lives." She leaves the reader aware that, even with recurrent depression, with courage and ability, it may be possible to lead a rewarding and productive life. Mr. Zankel's suicide illustrates that further work is needed to deal with the problem of resistant episodes of depression.

The powerful, moving quality of Ms. Langley's coverage, while a tribute to her reporting, would not have been possible if the family had not been open with her about his life. The picture they portray of his many fine attributes as well as his struggle with depression is a measure of their respect and affection for him. It is a human picture that rather than detract from his accomplishments gives his life a heroic dimension. For them to be willing to share this with Ms. Langley she had to have earned their trust and the result validates their judgment. Her responsible reporting helps underscore the illness that underlies suicide, the extent to which depression is treatable, and the need for further research to help those with treatment resistant depression.