What the Bank of America Intern's Death Can Teach us About Workplace Health

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—The shocking news of the death of 21-year old Bank of America intern Moritz Erhardt ran across newsfeeds earlier this week. Erhardt was a student at the WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management in Vallendar, Germany and had just completed a study abroad semester at the University of Michigan in May.

After studying abroad, he landed his internship in London. His internship was to be seven weeks. That internship led him to work days on end pushing the limits of his body. He was probably not even aware at the time exactly how at risk he really was.

He was found unconscious in his shower after suffering a seizure, and pronounced dead at the scene. When he got in the shower, he had been working for 72-consecutive hours.

Moritz's story is a topic of discussion on wallstreetoasis.com, but more than a speculative discussion that is geared around, "Can you believe someone died?" Maybe, it is time to examine health. Moritz Erhardt was put in a situation where he was working multiple days in a row as an intern, because it is likely he was looking to graduate into a job that required him to do that on a consistent basis. It is not a secret that investment bankers work day and night, and there is a system in place to reward them with huge paydays.

However, at what point is it too far? At what point is a banker or a corporate lawyer at risk of dying from not sleeping and using stimulants to stay awake?

Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a cardiologist who founded the Connecticut-based Heart MD Institute, stressed the importance of working in moderation.

"Sleep is vital for heart health as it is really the most important antioxidant in the body," he said. "Sleep helps the heart to recover, and a minimum of four to five hours per night should be maintained."

He went on to describe there are situations like soldiers in a war who cannot sleep. However, one to two hours per night is needed to survive. He said, "If the person cannot sleep for days, this puts an enormous stress on the autonomic nervous system that could disrupt heart rate variability that could lead to a sudden death situation," he said.

He touched on the fact that everyone's body responds differently. It's difficult to determine what an individual's reaction to sleep deprivation is going to be. He said in a situation like Moritz's, many factors come into play that create a perfect storm that include but are not limited to:

  • Was he taking any pharmaceutical drugs like asthma medication?
  • Was he consuming excessive quantities of caffeine and sugar?
  • Was he sitting in a sea of Wi-Fi, radiofrequency, cordless phone, cell phone toxic vibrations that could disrupt heart rate variability?
  • Was there air pollution?
  • Was there intense struggle, heartbreak, or anger going on emotionally?
  • Was there a struggle to do more and more in less and less time with an unrealistic deadline?
  • Was the student being productive and self-destructive at the same time?

Wall Street is no stranger to self-destructive behavior, yet staying awake for three or four days is not exactly easy to do. Some people turn to stimulants to power through it. If you feel as if you are in this situation and want help, there are resources out there for you.

 

In addition to sleep deprivation, a demanding job can cause stress that is also bad for heart health. The American Heart Association supplied some facts about stress and its symptoms.

More importantly, if Moritz's schedule is typical for you listen to Dr. Sinatra's advice.

"At a minimum, a person needs four hours of sleep a night and even periods of rest, meditation, short walks, etc., to break up the routine," he said.

--Written by Leigh Held for MainStreet

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