Friends Of The Gifted Need To Learn Suicide Intervention Tactics

by Bill Brenner on January 17, 2013

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.

Mood music:

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.

Skeleton in Pain

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Amber January 17, 2013 at 9:53 am

Thanks for the h/t, but to clarify, I was asking if people wanted a workshop on suicide intervention tactics, not depression coping. People in the community (especially in the past week) have contacted me asking, “My friend says they want to kill themselves, what should I [not] say? What if they say they’re kidding? What if they “cry wolf” over and over? What if they say they have a plan and the means? What if they’re cutting/abusing drugs/threatening violence on others? What are my legal obligations? I can’t babysit them, and I feel guilty, but dealing with this person is emotionally taxing. Should I stop? They don’t trust therapists, where can I send them? What if this triggers my own history of depression?” etc.
We already know there’s a problem, I would like to help people feel empowered to deal with whatever comes their way.

Amber January 17, 2013 at 11:25 am

Thanks for fixing!

K0nsp1racy February 7, 2013 at 9:53 am

This is a very important issue in the community, and where Amber picks up, the IT Burnout project ( hopes to help others cope with the stress and depression that is clinically being defined as burnout BEFORE it reaches folks like Amber. Along with Jack Daniel, Stacy Thayer, Josh Corman, Gal Shpantzer, and Martin McKeay, we are trying desperately to get our message and research out into our community that people are not alone in this very real fight. It isn’t simply about the individual; it is about the individual and organization working together to define and identify symptoms and conditions that could lead to a downward spiral.

I would love to talk more on this subject, and I think I speak on behalf of the entire team mentioned above that we would love to hear ideas or contributions to this very important project.

Quadling February 27, 2013 at 2:11 am

I think a workshop on suicide prevention tactics and techniques, along with perhaps a companion workshop from the IT Burnout project, could be really useful. I’d support it. Where do you want to hold it? Hell, if we can’t get it accepted as a talk, let’s go to a restaurant, and have a dinner conversation with anyone who wants to come along!

Bill Brenner February 27, 2013 at 8:47 am

Well said, my twin.

Austin DeVille July 2, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Miyamoto Musashi may have said the quote below:

“there is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.”

I have found through practice that this very helpful to address a myriad of contracting emotions and thoughts, that lead to many things. We must focus on eradicating the cause rather than the symptoms. If we go within we can omit a new frequency and live a life of abundance and prosperity.

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