Slim-Fast Developer Laid Off, Jumps To His Death
The economic crisis has wrecked many lives, and stolen a few too. The latest apparent casualty was found on a grassy patch behind the Bedforshire, U.K., complex of Unilever, the world's third largest consumer goods company. Clive Blackburn was a preeminent food scientist, who developed Slim-Fast drinks and other prepackaged products. The day after he was laid off, the 48-year-old Blackburn jumped off the company's roof.
Blackburn, a passionate scuba diver and squash player, worked for Unilever for 15 years, reports the Daily Mail, first developing ice cream (with brand names like Ben & Jerry's, Good Humor, Klondike, and Wall's, Unilever is the world's biggest ice cream maker). He also worked on food preservation, and even co-authored and contributed to books on the subject: "The Stability and Shelf-Life of Food" and "Foodborne Pathogens: Hazards, Risk Analysis and Control."
For three years Blackburn managed 20 employees, who developed a variety of ready-to-drink beverages, like Slim-Fast and Lipton Tea. Last May, he was told that he was being laid off. After his last day -- Friday, Nov. 11 -- Blackburn edited his LinkedIn profile to read "1963-2011" and marked the end of his employment at Unilever. The next day he returned to the empty laboratory, and jumped off the roof.
"The cause of his death was recorded as multiple bone and soft tissue injuries, consistent with a fall from height," Coroner David Morris told the inquest on his death.
In the months leading up to the day of his death, Blackburn's co-workers said that they noticed that he began to act strangely, and the scientist reportedly told his doctor about his bleak and depressive thoughts. Blackburn is said to have told him that at work he was simply "going through the motions," and even though Blackburn was in the second round of interviews at potential new jobs, his last day at Unilever was "looming large in his thoughts."
"He was a highly intelligent and highly qualified scientist who struggled with anxiety. With the impending redundancy he developed severe depression," said Morris. "I have no alternative but to record a verdict that he took his own life, whilst suffering from acute depression."
The economic crisis, and the resulting layoffs, have pushed others over the edge. Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2009, the latest year for which data is available. That's one death by suicide every 14 minutes and 12 seconds. The numbers have been increasing every year since 2006.
One Costa Mesa, Calif., maintenance worker jumped from the five-story roof of City Hall last year, less than three weeks after officials decided to lay off half the city's employees. A prominent District of Columbia attorney, who was recently pink-slipped, was found dead in his office on his last day of work in 2009. Police called it an apparent suicide.
A London stock trader, Asif Mohamedali, allegedly told his boss that he was having suicidal thoughts after losing the equivalent of $27 million on the job. He claims that his manager told him "tough luck, dude" and "pull yourself together," then fired him a few months later.
Blackburn's family asked relatives and friends who planned to attend the funeral to donate to MIND, a leading mental health charity in England and Wales.
Need help? In the U.S. you can call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, every day. All calls are confidential.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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