One thing I’ve learned over the years: Some super-smart, super-gifted, ahead-of-their-time people often battle with depression and eventually lose their war. So it was for my best friend who took his life 16 years ago. And for Aaron Swartz, the 26-year-old co-creator of RSS and Reddit, who ended his life last week.
Yesterday on Twitter, Amber Baldet, a friend from the infosec world who is also a crisis hotline counselor certified in suicide intervention, made note of this. Amber asked: “Would a workshop on [suicide intervention tactics] as relates to gifted/tech folks be valuable at a tech con?”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since starting this blog, it’s that depression and anxiety run high in the information security industry. I’ve had many discussions with people who have battled their own demons. All of them were brilliant, innovative and downright gifted. They remind me of my long-dead friend. I often think about how his intelligence made him hyper-aware of the world around him. He had moments of extreme joy and extreme pain. You could say he knew too much to be happy.
If there’s one thing I wish I had back then, it would be the skills to see where he was headed and the tactics to help him back off the ledge.
To Amber’s point, friends and colleagues of the sufferers in our industry need to learn tactics to make a difference.
I don’t consider myself gifted, but in the last several years I’ve found tools to cope with my own depressed feelings. I’ve learned to use music, humor, writing and counseling as weapons against the dark. Medication alone is never enough. Sometimes, it makes things worse.
Those tools are essential, as are tactics we could all use to help those who can’t seem to help themselves. Putting those things on display at tech conferences could be as important as the technology on display.
I’m willing to do my part to make it happen.
To read what others said in response to Amber’s question, check out “Mixing Mental Health with Work Training” on Storify.