When Can We Talk About Depression?


Like everyone else, I am heartbroken by the loss of Aaron Swartz, 26, who hung himself last week. He was by all accounts an amazing person. He used his brilliance in technology to advance the cause of a free internet.  He was a passionate activist whose antics led to serious charges that could have ended in decades of jail time.  Naturally, there is cause to question and condemn the over-zealous prosecutor who seemed intent on punishing Aaron in the worst way possible. Living under this threat and its attendant stress must have been difficult.

But nobody in Aaron’s world seems to want to talk about depression. Maybe they feel that being driven to suicide by the dark forces of the corporate-government complex is more noble than a loss in the struggle with clinical depression. In forums and editorials about Aaron’s death, those who bring up Aaron’s admitted depression are scolded with “Now is not the time!”

But now is the time. Now is always the time. If you don’t understand depression, here is a good place to start. If you want statistics on college suicide, go here.  Read about the stigma of depression in the tech world here. Read Aaron’s blog post about his depression here. You already know that more US soldiers now die from suicide than in combat.

Suicide is preventable. Not in every case, obviously. But awareness and education and the dedication of friends and loved ones can and does make a difference. This website, suicideispreventable.org, is the first step in learning  how you can help and what words to use with a friend who might be thinking of ending his life.

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/Someone is another good resource.  Feeling hopeless and seeing no end in sight can make death seem like the only option. Empathy and affection can persuade the depressed person that things can change.

I wish I could have comforted Aaron Swartz until he felt strong enough to go on. I wish I had stayed up with Max and held his hand until the beginning of a new day. We can’t go back in time but we can try our best to break someone’s fall if we are mindful and courageous enough to make the effort.


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15 Responses to When Can We Talk About Depression?

  1. Kelly says:

    Yes, yes, yes! I am also disappointed, after reading Aaron’s own words, that his family have not said anything about depression. Oh, the stigma–she is great.

    I wrote about Jacintha Saldanha killing herself out of shame, remorse and an overzealous sense of duty—but then read she had tried to kill herself twice before. My brother suffers from depression and he’s just taken up shooting for sport. All I can hope is that he carries on with the cognitive behavioral therapy and doesn’t point the gun in the wrong direction.

  2. Really great post, succinct and to the point. We all wish we could have held Max’s hand xx

  3. Slayer says:

    I also noticed that no one seems to want to talk about his depression. I can understand the desire for privacy. It could be because he hid it well, or for those closest to him feeling guilt for failing him somehow. It’s a raw wound, but you are absolutely right that we should be talking about it.

    This reminds me of another loss to suicide by David Foster Wallace, a genius writer who openly discussed his struggle with depression and eventually deceived his own wife, Karen Green, into thinking he was past the worst. She let her guard down and left him alone and he ended his life. There’s a good interview with her here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/apr/10/karen-green-david-foster-wallace-interview

    Maybe it’s true that ignorance is bliss, when these very smart people come equipped with the disease of depression it can end up eclipsing everything else they do.

  4. Sister Wolf says:

    Kelly – I didn’t know that about Jacintha Saldanha. And I’m sorry to hear about your brother. Guns and depression are a disturbing combination.

    Kaate – xoxoxo

    Slayer – Thank you for the link – that was a powerful interview. She has a whole extra burden, doesn’t she? The more light that is shed on this subject, the more we might be able to help, as loved ones and as a larger community.

  5. kate says:

    As someone who deals with depression and has overcome suicidal tendencies, it breaks my heart when people blame themselves for not doing more. Sometimes it is enough, and sometimes it isn’t, but it’s not your fault.
    What does it mean, it is not the time to talk about depression in the wake of suicide? When would be a better time for these people?

  6. Bonnie says:

    It really bothers me when the media blames suicide on a one time event. They will report that Aaron Swartz committed suicide because he was hounded by over zealous prosecutors or Jacintha Saldanha killed herself out of guilt and remorse over a leak to the press. I guess the drama sells advertising space. An open dialogue about depression would be so much more productive.

  7. Suspended says:

    There are times in life when I’ve felt helpless, useless, scared and consumed with worry. It’s the darkest feeling I’ve encountered. I can’t imagine feeling like that regularly and being able to cope. It’s just too terrifying.

    Those feelings were all circumstantial, I knew why I was feeling that way. If that little bit of certainty was removed, I’m not sure I could stick around either. To carry the feeling that ones life is pointless is the greatest of burdens. Many of us are barely tough enough for this world.

    Sister, I think by sharing your experiences we’ve all come to miss Max. xx

  8. Sister Wolf says:

    Ah Suspended, that is my best purpose right now, to make people feel him. You would’ve loved him, I just know. xo

  9. Cricket9 says:

    I was very lucky in many ways – I had a good doctor, medication worked, my then-employer was supportive and allowed me time to see a psychiatrist during work, nobody called me crazy (at least not to my face). The worst were well-meaning friends telling me “don’t take pills”, “what do YOU have to be depressed about”, “just snap out of it”, “go out and see people”, and other pearls of wisdom. To this day these sentences make me grind my teeth. You’re right, SW, NOW is the time. Thank you for the links, I’ll repost them everywhere I can.

  10. Andrew N. says:

    Great post and responses–such needed perspectives.

  11. Jenny says:

    Such a great post xx

  12. conceptuelle says:

    YES. I thought I wasn’t going to make it through last winter. I’ve made a huge turnaround, but it was close.

    Nobody wanted to hear about my honest thoughts on suicide and how depressed I was. Like I would implicate them or make them responsible or it just isn’t something we talk about in public, keep it to yourself. Like I should just “try” to be happy. Like I wasn’t trying, or if I was it wasn’t hard enough.

    I can confirm that there is a stigma against depression in male-centric tech culture. I live in the Bay Area and an acquaintance is the creator of a major torrent software, well known and connected here. He told me that so many of his friends have taken their own lives, all successful smart dudes. Dudes in tech are usually withdrawn, proud, and perfectionists, a deadly combo. Society as a whole needs to get over its fear of talking about suicide. Openness would save lives.

  13. maybe says:

    @Bonnie I respectfully disagree. Yes there are cumulative factors but why can’t one monumental event (or person) and its consequences be the thing that drives someone to suicide? Every case is different as is every person. Most people are not insightful, sensitive…or suicidal enough to understand suicide. My best friend told me if she ever lost a certain amount of limbs she would kill herself. She has a plan. There is nothing I can say or do. She says ‘no I will take myself out so please leave it that’. I believe every person has the right to take their own life and that should be respected. We don’t have a choice in being born and death can come at anytime but we can take ourselves out if we choose. That is all power we have in our tiny lives and it is a sacred decision. You as an outsider are not the one that has to live with the consequences of their current situation so please don’t be selfish and just let them go!! Keeping them alive with fluffy talking is not going to solve the root of that person’s problems. If we are talking suicide in situations of jail, terminal/debilitating medical issues, rape pregnancy, etc…I mean extreme situations, it’s not about getting through the day and having your boss care. We are talking quality of life is worse than hell type stuff. A guarantee of NOT going to jail would have saved Aaron’s life. Suicide over jail is not a tragedy it is a right, jesus have you ever been in a male prison. I didn’t think so. Living in prison with people talking at him through a glass window about how THEY need him around is not enough to keep a sensitive, brilliant, depressed 26yo alive to live through ass rape resulting in anal cancer and daily violence in prison for 30yrs. They should have taken prison off the table end of story and stopped scaring him. Maybe he would have never been sentenced to jail and they were just manipulating him and that is the really messed up part. …This rant is coming from a person with suicidal tendencies…and a brother in jail.

  14. Suspended says:

    I’m certain I would have loved him, Sister Wolf. If he was anything like you, it’s the easiest of assumptions. xoxo

  15. Thinking says:

    What a sensitive consideration. I felt the same way about Aaron – a young man at the same age as my own son. I cross paths with many people – why not him, or any other person who experiencing such profound despair.

    As we watch meltdowns of so many young people I have to ask myself about the predatory culture we have created that fosters the many types of self-destruction young people are capable of.

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