health

Handwritten notes found in couple's pockets after they died paint a familiar nightmare.

Editor’s note: This post deals with themes of suicide, and may be triggering for some readers.

Glenn Scarpelli and his wife Patricia Colant had two children, a chiropractic business and a life centred around food and family in New York.

He, a chiropractor, and she, a receptionist, were the “gentle, kind and grounded” types; ones who volunteered at Ground Zero in the wake of 9/11 and ones who were gave much of their time and energy into the goings-on of their children’s school.

But behind a facade of love and light was a financial burden that grew in stress as it did by dollar.

The endless bills were too much, the burden overwhelming and their future dogged by a distinct inability to pay it back. And so, last Friday, 53-year-old Glenn and 50-year-old Patricia jumped from the ninth-floor of a 17-story office building on Madison Avenue in Murray Hill, New York.

In their pockets were a couple of notes kept safe by tiny plastic bags.

In Scarpelli’s pocket was a letter titled, “We had a wonderful life”. He explained, however, that he and his wife had found themselves in a “financial spiral”, with medical issues and a lack of funds to pay for the health care they both needed.

Public records show that Mr Scarpelli owed nearly $270,000 to to the federal government and $53,000 in unpaid taxes.

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Their children, 20-year-old Isabella and 19-year-old Joseph, had no sense of what was to come.

Last year, when addressing his school, the couple's now 19-year-old son Joseph gave insight into the kinds of advice his parents gave him on the fly, hindsight haunting in its relevance.

“I am going to share with you some advice given to me by my own parents when I was younger,” Joseph Scarpelli told his classmates at Loyola High School in New York, in a speech given at a morning assembly in March 2016.

“My parents repeatedly told me that I could wake up one day and lose everyone I love, but no one will ever be able to take away my faith.”

Last Friday, Joseph did wake up without two of the people he loved the most, with no knowledge of what was behind it all.

***

In Australia, research shows an increasing number of people are living with overwhelming financial stress.

Last year, Way Ahead, Mental Health Association NSW, found that 45 per cent of Australians say financial concerns are the largest contributor to stress within households. Of this 45 per cent, the organisation found 58 per cent felt that pressure to afford basic food and necessities was causing them undue stress and concern.

To compound with this, in its most recent report 'Facing financial stress', Wesley Mission, a charity that provides financial counselling, found of the 500 households in their survey, 44 per cent were facing financial stress. The figure was up seven per cent from 2010.

The intersection between financial stress and mental health exists, and is only becoming more prominent as the cost of living rises.

Just this week, the annual Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) report found mortgage debt for 18- to 39-year-olds has almost doubled since 2002, with the average debt rising from $169,201 to $336,586.

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Not only do Australians have substantial debt, job insecurity is only becoming more pronounced as more Australians make money from part-time and casual work.

According to the ABS, full-time employment now accounts for about 68 per cent of employment - down from around 72 per cent a decade ago. Meanwhile 20.1 per cent of workers in the country people identified as casual employees.

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There's no doubt these are fickle times, and according to Associate Professor Josephine Anderson of the Black Dog Institute, they have a monumental impact on the state of our minds.

"It is certainly up there as one of the big life stressors, and if a lot of different life stressors pile up, they can precipitate episodes of depression. And then, even if people don't develop clinical depression, it can still affect their sleep because they are worrying a lot more, which impacts their ability to concentrate, which means they are less functional at work and perhaps more irritable with loved ones," she tells Mamamia.

Dr Anderson said she believed the intersection between mental health and financial stress has been "steady" overtime, rather than something that has surged in recent years.

"I suspect it has been a steady thing.

"We do know if you look at the history of suicide in Australia since we started to record data, there is always a slight upswing if there is a high unemployment rate and one of the consequences of high unemployment is money worries."

Dr Anderson says "there are two broad things" that those who suffering can look at doing.

"The first thing I see for people who do go through this is that it goes on for some time, and they feel very out of control about it.

"It's important to get some form of getting financial counselling, whether that's managing budgets and debts and I know a number of NGO providers [can do this].

"What often happens when people get into debt is that it gets too overwhelming and they push it away and don't put it o the front foot or take any action about it."

She adds that banks and credit providers generally have measures in place to help those who feel "helpless and hopeless" to repay the debt in a manageable way.

"The other thing is that we should also be always thinking about what we can do reduce stress in other areas of our lives. We need to make sure we are getting enough sleep and or exercise."

Because perhaps if Glenn Scarpelli and Patricia Colant could see a flicker of light when overwhelmed by darkness -  a light that may have come from the advice above - Isabella and Joseph's parents would be here with them today, telling them a little more about how to live without those they love, far from being the ones they miss.

If you or a loved one is struggling, Mamamia urges you to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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