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Diaspora Co-Founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy Passes Away At 21 (techcrunch.com)
764 points by brackin on Nov 13, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 230 comments

The founders of Diaspora were in a really unenviable position. They started off with a wave of national press as well as solid financial support from grassroot users. As time went on, it became increasingly clear that they would not be able to accomplish the goal they originally set out to do. They had failed. Publicly. This can be very devastating psychologically to someone who has always 'succeeded' in life.

I'm not saying this was the case for Ilya, or had any part in his death, but I know for me it would have been hard to swallow. There are many silent founders out there that gave up everything for an unrealized dream in the path to startup success and it has a real toll on psyches.

Best wishes to his family & friends.

EDIT: This appears to be a very controversial comment. The vote count seems to be oscillating up and down very rapidly. I don't want to make this out to be a discussion about Diaspora, so I won't comment further on that point. But the mental health of founders is a real issue and rarely discussed. Maybe there should be a more open discussion about this issue.

Very important comment. The biggest risk in doing a startup is not the financial risk per se.

It's the psychological risk of knowing you really, really tried -- and still failed. That is the hard part, because everyone goes in with Dilbert/mass media notions of how easy it is to be a CEO or (just as bad) Social Network illusions of how easy it is to grow meteorically while fighting off lawsuits.

The truth is that it's not easy, that it takes a special and lucky person. If you fail it's really hard to realize you aren't that special. The possibly healthier (?) way of dealing is to convince yourself that it was bad luck, or the other guy cheated. Then it's not as much of a hit to the ego, to the sense of your own capabilities. But it's hard.

It doesn't take a special person, so much as it's simply the case that no matter who you are, your startup is likely to fail.

When I was much younger and starting my first (fundably doomed) startup, one of my cofounders liked to say, "yeah, most businesses fail, but those statistics include companies trying to sell soft drinks to Eskimos and combination Chinese food/pizza restaurants". Then we'd all chuckle, knowing that the statistics most certainly didn't capture dynamic new technology firms like ours.

No. Most companies fail. Look at the list of dead YC companies. Those were screened by a team that has specialized in doing nothing but screening founding teams and then attempting to give them every advantage their considerable and growing infrastructure and connections can give them. And they still fail.

Because that is what startups do. They fail.

The best, most talented, most experienced founders in the world would presumably be among the first to tell you that you can't read anything about your self from the simple fact that your company failed. Learn what you can, but don't ever let it grind on you.

(Some people just shouldn't be in this game, for whatever it's worth, like Matt Damon said about the no-limit players in Rounders; not because they can't, but because it's not healthy for them.)

Actually I will take that further, as a small business owner.

EVERY business fails. Every single one. Some businesses somehow manage to stay in business when they run out of money and keep going on until they succeed. However, that's what businesses are up against. I think going into that armed and aware is one thing that makes success more likely.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't YC focussing on relatively high-risk ventures in the hope of hitting it big? If they picked a roster of less ambitious projects, but with the same quality of personnel, then surely the failure rate would drop.

I'm not making a comment about YC.

But you were using YC as an example to support a point about startups in general.

It's probably just vocabulary. We think startups as tech-related, but there's probably just as many new companies created in the restaurant sector as ours -- and they have their own restaurant investment companies.

I believe there is a reason something succeeds and there is a reason something fails.

Jobs did fail, at Next, and that's STEVE FUCKING JOBS.

Arguably he failed at Apple too (the first time around).

Another lesson to take from Steve's experience: the bigger the impact your startup is likely to make, the greater the chance it will fail. That might seem quite counterintuitive at first. Certainly, if there's a market and the demand is there, then success should be forthcoming, right?

Except if the problem is unsolved, it's probably unsolved for a reason. I'm reminded of something I read (I believe it was from "Germs, Guns, and Steel", but I don't have it to reference): invention is the mother of necessity! Safe startups give people something they already want. Great startups give people something they didn't even know they needed.

But humans are dumb animals. The first three times you show them something better, they'll turn their backs. So the more important your work is, the more likely you are to fail, and fail, and fail again. It's not you, it's just human nature.

And he got kicked out of Apple, and his Lisa failed, and the term "Personal Computer" - the thing Apple created - came to mean their competitor.

That's why he's so inspiring. He's a protagonist you can identify with, who triumphed over setbacks and flaws.

I'd love to someday have a failure as awesome as NeXT.

>>The possibly healthier (?) way of dealing is to convince yourself that it was bad luck, or the other guy cheated

I think it would be healthier to accept that failure is normal and to rather enjoy the road to Ithaca [1]. Life without challenges/failures would be too boring.


This is not part of the american cultural narrative and thus will be harder to accept even to your own psyche.

Its important to understand how the difference between your own thinking and society's thinking can and will affect your own happiness (usually in a negative way). Its not something many people think about but has very real consequences.

Failure is a stage on the path to success.

'What I'm getting at is maybe it wasn't "failure" that disturbed this man but simply the pressure to succeed.'

I don;t think we will ever know, but I will say that pressure to succeed and not fail is fundamentally unhealthy.

I just bought the book "reWork" by the guys at 37signals and so now my opinion on every business bei doomed to fail is different. But I think we're missing the point. What if this isn't about failure at all? What if Diaspora was widely thought to be a big success?

What I'm getting at is maybe it wasn't "failure" that disturbed this man but simply the pressure to succeed. I'm someone who is succeeding in business so far but I still get bad bouts of depression and feel like a failure anyway. It's not just me either, it can be anyone.

I don't know enough about this man and Diaspora to have insight into his thoughts or to know about the success or failure of the company but I haven't seen any indications from anyone here that he was distressed over failure. It could've just been the pressure of it all. Whether you've made it big or you're still the little guy in a garage that pressure is the same. It's all relative. The little guy worried about payng rent and the big guy sweats over the down payment on the mansion. Same pressure, different context.


He died of cancer of the larynx.

it depends on the type of person you are. Sometimes we delude ouselves to protect against the downfall from believing the opposite

As s startup owner I feel like I am a sinking man and each floating wood chip around is a hope - Learning to float between moving from one wood chip to other is the key to me.

I guess I will fail that day when I will conclude that I am too tired of trying (not really, really tried -- and still failed).

I don't believe "The truth is ... that it takes a special and lucky person". The truth is we need one or two hands on our shoulder and someone to stand during the darkest hours and say "darkest hours are always before the sun comes". ..sad to read about Ilya Zhitomirskiy.

>> It's the psychological risk of knowing you really, really tried -- and still failed.

As a successful developer who spent years thinking "with enough time, I can solve any problem" and was just caught back by reality (efforts do not always imply success), this comment stuck a chord with me.

It also takes a lot of support, and circular support as even if you are feeling down, your partner may be too, and its both your jobs to keep the other happy. Its very stressful being in the limbo state with everyone trying to kill you, you are trying to build something, you want to get money to continue working, nobody thinks its a good idea till you prove it which takes time, etc.

It definitely takes a mental fortitude and a dash of ignorance to do this stuff.

> If you fail it's really hard to realize you aren't that special.

All of the most special people in history endured many failures. So while failure can teach us many things, "you're not special" is absolutely not one of them.

Not just the aspect of "failing". But also mix in the tough, gruesome aspect of working 12 hours a day with little to no time for social life. And the inability for most people to understand what you're going through. And if you don't got a significant other, it makes it feels like you're all alone in this battle.

Not saying this is the case for him, but in the end, we're just cells.. and if we don't receive certain stimuli, science dictates we go crazy.

I imagine it's a difficult situation for the remaining founders, especially for those (if any) that encouraged Ilya to initially participate in their Diaspora team (it would be for me if I were in their shoes). I think it's important to remember in a context like this that failure is part of the plan: entrepreneurs are risk-seekers by definition, and the harder you fail, the more you learn, to such an extent that you could pass with flying colors a regular contributor role at a big software company. In the context of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_Kan , I'd just like people to keep their perspective and not to take the assumed risk for granted by thinking they're a failure.

Wow, this strikes me as a really tone-deaf response to this news, especially considering that Diaspora is alive, kicking, and growing.

I'm interested to know how they have been perceived as failure. I think this is all very relative, and failure is a strong word. Github still have 1 day old commit and the community is apparently still active.

As far as failures come, the only thing I have heard about diaspora are the following things:

* Source-code full of freshman's mistakes and security exploits. Basically not-to-be-trusted quality code, released to the public for deployment.

* All money invested in the project wasted without anything to show for.

* I know absolutely nobody using diaspora, expect one person.

* This person attempted to invite me, and diaspora failed to send me the invite email. Now he cannot invite me again.

It's a laughing stock. For the parts of the internet which has even heard about it. Which is the minority of the internet. As a social network this is a failure on absolutely every aspect I can find measures for.

The goals were admirable, but goals alone wont win you any credit. You have to get there as well. Diaspora didn't and most likely wont.

Failure in this context likely means "is not attracting large swathes of Facebook users" though frankly I think that's but one measure of the success of a social networking website.

Well, a social network that is used by only a small fraction of one's friends and potential friends is not very useful.

Not necessarily. If you can make a federated social network that can interoperate with the networks people already use, people can migrate to it incrementally.

I suppose it is when the narrative is the next Facebook killer which the media fostered and perpetuated creating some unreasonable expectation for their team.

Actually I don't believe that Diaspora failed. The fact that I'm using it on a daily basis, and not using Facebook, is pretty much a win as far as I'm concerned. Diaspora still has some way to go, but it's usable.

I have a hard time seeing Diaspora overtaking Facebook or G+ for that matter, especially with the former becoming more entrenched with site authentication.

Certainly, success is subjective but I think the expectations for Diaspora was to be a legit alternative to Facebook and now G+. And while it is an alternative, it's not popular enough for most people to switch over. Furthermore, Diaspora got widely criticized with regards to their funding and subsequent releases... specifically people expecting much more for the amount of investment.

It doesn't have to overtake either to be a success.

And in fact; given that both G+ and FB now have features (particularly privacy features) inspired by Diaspora suggests success to their original goals.

What are you saying, the stress of the Diaspora project killed him? Did you hear this from a close source or are you just guessing it?

I'd assume he is implicating suicide

Not necessarily, stress is a risk factor in many, many problems, from illnesses to accidents.

Yes, the mental health of founders is something that should be discussed more. I do see a fair amount of articles that approach the subject but maybe not intensely enough.

Burnout is one thing but serious depression is another altogether. The pressure of starting a small local business is enough to drive a person mad. Just think about the guys being covered in TC, the widely known ones, the "stars" of the tech startup world. We all like to think they're superhuman and can conquer anything. We all like to think they're living large and wish we had what they have but really it's all relative.

This lime of work (starting a business, startup, whatever you want to call it) is the furthest thing from easy and glamorous as you can get. It's important to have a support network and to take care of yourself especially well when venturing on an endeavor like that. I am insignificant but I can relate. And you know, I bet a many others would echo that sentiment.

It's so damn terrible to see someone so young go like that. To imagine what he could've accomplished in the future and how his family, friends, and coworkers are now robbed of a terrific person is so sad it's beyond words. And make no mistake, we don't have to know someone to know they're great people. We're all great people. If you have just one relationship with a single person in your life then you're special and wonderful in someone else's eyes and you qualify as being great. I didn't know the guy, barely knew of him, but it sucks to see such a great person go.

1. If at first you don't succeed, redefine success.

2. Success is measured in many ways, and one of those ways is dollars. There are many different ways to get dollars.

3. Failure leads to success.

4. Diaspora got GREAT and HIGHLY SUPPORTIVE press about 2 months ago from Free Software Magazine.

5. Diaspora had substantial cash flow shortly after launching the foundation. In fact they got SO MUCH MONEY that PayPal froze their account, probably because they thought it was fraud (fraud detection is REALLY hard and false positives are cheaper than false negatives...this is IMHO the most likely interpretation).

On the contrary, Ilya was in a GREAT position. LOTS of people would have given their left testicle to be him. Now, if he couldn't handle the stress, or he had one too many shots of Vodka, that is tragic, but don't try to bring Diaspora down with him. The facts are not on your side.

tl;dr It is WAAAAY too early to be declaring Diaspora a failure.

"3. Failure leads to success."

This is one of the great overlooked points.

Horrible. This news is so tragic I really can't focus on anything else now. Which is probably the way it should be.

Our community stresses the importance of achievement, success, and technology so much that it's easy to forget what's really most important: each other. Sometimes it takes terrible news like this to jerk us back to that reality.

I never knew Ilya, but if any of his friends of family visits this forum, please know that many thoughts and prayers are with you.

I have no idea what was behind this, so just a few (possibly related) thoughts:

- Let's never forget that everything we do is for other people. They outrank all the ones and zeros. Go hug someone important to you.

- If you ever believe the possibility of something like happening is > .00001, do something, anything. If you don't know what to do, contact me (see my profile) and I'll help in any way I can. Nothing can be more important.

- This was the ultimate failure. I'm so sorry to hear this and hope that Ilya's family and friends somehow find peace.

>> If you ever believe the possibility of something like happening is > .00001, do something, anything. If you don't know what to do, contact me (see my profile) and I'll help in any way I can.

Its a nice thought, but people in this position often don't want help.

My best Friend was doing a PHD in a Biochemistry related field at University College London back in 2003. He was an outgoing person, had a hot girlfriend and lots of friends. He had a what seemed like a great life and an even better future.

One night we went out together and had a great night. We went our separate ways about 4am and I we arranged to meet at 5pm the next day.

At 2pm the next afternoon I got a call from his flat mate saying that he had committed suicide. He had access to all kinds of chemicals and substances at the as part of his PHD and he had been taking little bits for months and months and making a potent cocktail of poison. He drank the poison and died instantly.

There was no note, no explanation and no reason anyone knew. I was the last person (friend) to see him alive.

I guess I'm saying - even balanced, successful people have their reasons and you will never know or be told what they are.

Unfortunately, an outgoing personality is a great way to protect yourself from people asking you the very painful question of "what's wrong"...I know now, after wrestling with depression for years, that sometimes it's harder to face your depression and explain your pain to others than it is to simply be depressed in the first place. What better way to defend yourself than by acting exactly opposite of how you really are?

If someone is at that stage where you are contemplating this, here is a tip....just do it. By that I mean commit suicide of your _current_ life, not of life. Most of what weights someone down are the fears, struggles, embarrassment, your peer groups, jobs, etc. If you can't find a way through it, just leave it. Give all your stuff away, give away your money, give up your computer, leave your friends and family, pack a backback, travel to Africa, resign your life to helping others. Think of it as you ended your life and now you're just a servant to others. You don't have any aspirations of success, any ladders to climb, just live to help others.

Go without any plans, any future, just go and see what happens. You'll be free. It may be dangerous, you might not make it, but if your other choice was death the day before, then everything now is just gravy anyways. Don't worry about it.

This may sound silly and simple and extreme, but if you _are_ at that stage then this should be your stop gap. From now on when you're in that dark spot just think about when you're going to pull the trigger on this, not on yourself.

Of course there are lots of things you can do before it comes to this, but if you're past that, just leave your current life totally.

I'm not sure this is good advice. I have no experience of this kind of thing, but it seems to me that cutting yourself off from everybody who cares about you is one of the worst things you can do. Now you have no money, no friends, no family, and nothing to stop you when you next start to feel like jumping off a cliff.

It sounds like a good start to a story, but bad real-world advice.

I had an ex-gf who worked on a suicide hotline, and apparently one of the most powerful things they had in their arsenal were questions like "Who do you think would find your body?" and "How do you think it would affect them?" and other encouragements for suicidal person to think about how their suicide would affect those around them. If you're backpacking alone in Africa, having taken your leave from everybody in your life two months ago, it seems like there'd be a lot less to keep you.

You miss the point. You would have already jumped off a cliff. This is one thing you do before. Of course try all the other things. But if you _are_ on the ledge, consider this before. If you think about it, is the consideration of this is similar to "who will find your body, how will they feel". It's one additional stop gap to prevent the worse outcome.

I don't think that's how it works.

(Also, no offence, but I'm disinclined to take suicide-prevention advice from anyone named "necro"...)

I can confirm (at least in my experience + the experience of others I know who suffer from serious clinical depression) this is not how (serious) depression works.

I sincerely doubt it would make any difference, largely because of how you feel about life + yourself (it would require an acceptance of capability of doing such things) + the point of trying to help such a horrid world. I think the more immediate consideration of those people finding your body, etc. will be more effective as that's something undeniable and forces you to consider others in a non-fanciful way.

The problem with this strategy is what Buckaroo Banzai said: "No matter where you go, there you are."

In other words, a lot of the time the things that are making you unhappy are internal: lack of confidence, self-esteem, self respect, or non-functional brain chemistry. Sure, if there's something weighing you down (a bad relationship or job) then change it. But if you're unhappy with everything in your life then what you need to change is yourself.

This is dangerous bullshit, frankly. The big problem with it is that in serious depression the source of depression is not your immediate circumstances, rather it's something deeper/more pervasive and by running away you are not actually solving anything.

The experience of clinical depression is so unutterably horrible that unless you've experienced it you can't know what it's like. There is a huge gulf between moderate depression and the clinical variety. In the depths of serious depression you barely have the energy to get out of bed let alone help anybody, and suggesting that somebody ought to give up aspirations to help these poor, helpless Africans (which country in Africa I might ask - I think natives of African nations might take offence here) is actually more likely to inspire feelings of guilt and isolation than a sense of hope.

The best solution for somebody experiencing issues is to seek professional guidance and not take romanticised + frankly fanciful advice from a random person on a news site.

Sorry to be harsh, but this could affect somebody out there and I think it needs to be said.

Someone on 4chan(I know)wrote a comment similar to yours regarding suicide, saying that "If you're willing to give up your life and kill yourself, your life is now yours and the world is your oyster." The comment was hotly debated on Reddit, and one school of thought shared among a large set of people was that this way of thinking is absolutely false. A person who is so unwilling to go through life that they would consider taking it isn't going to be able to just pack his stuff and go to Africa - the depression has set in so badly that they can't even get out of bed to face the day. These people feel their suffering is so great that others would be better off if that person weren't around so that they didn't have to suffer because of him.

Of course it's different for everyone, but it's easy to say "Sell your possessions and go forth" - not everyone can do it though, being not willing or able.

you have a romanticized idea of depression.

Your theory about the genesis of suicidal ideation is not based in fact. Read "Suicide as Escape From Self".

I wrote about depression a while ago - http://sk.or.at/elou9l - maybe you will find words that help you in my post. Always remember: You only fail in things that you do, not in who you are.

*just to confirm to anyone who read this and was concerned about my well-being: I am not suicidal. I appreciate the responses though and am glad to have contributed to this conversation. I think the stigma around mental health discussions is horrible and to see these things discussed in a public forum is fantastic, though the circumstances leading to this discussion are obviously very sad and grim. Hopefully events like this will open more people's eyes to the realization that depression is very common (especially amongst techies and startup founders) and it becomes easier for people to discuss this stuff moving forward as it literally can save lives if it's discussed more freely.

I'm sorry man, but that sounds awful. I'm a depression alumni with you. I did it all for a good 7 years - hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, then medication, then "fuck medication, I'm fine!" and "fuck medication! It doesn't work!", then heavy drug use and addiction, and counseling throughout.

The feeling can be beyond words and the energy needed to talk about it seems beyond us but I've gone the pretend route where you put on a brave face and act like a different person and it's just not healthy. It leads to you being even more depressed and no one having a clue which is so dangerous. I don't have the answers to getting over it (which I have done, personally) but I do know that acting like a different person isn't a good way to go. I hope you're better these days, feel free to get in touch if not. I'd be happy to talk about whatever.

I'll reach out soon, thanks for the reply!

Fwiw, I believe depression has certain deepness of thought and getting over with it is better than not getting it at all in the first place.

My older sister once gave told me 'never commit suicide hungover' (even though I wasn't feeling particularly depressed at the time). It respected that there are valid reasons for feeling down, while highlighting the need for a wider view than the current bad feeling.

My recent reocurring suicidal thoughts while being hungover drove me to quit drinking altogether.

Now that I'm sober the motives for ending my life seem banal in hindsight. Cheers to your sister.

Yep, and unbalanced people who had access to organic chem labs might hold on to something for years and years till some minor trigger happens. One of the risk factors for suicide is knowing someone who has done it. Her lab lost 2 in one year, then at least one 10 years on.

Where does it say that Ilya committed suicide?

It doesn't. People are assuming that the lack of explanation + his young age = suicide.

It may end up being the case, but at the moment, people are just speculating.

It would say how he died if it were anything other than suicide.

It is true that people his age don't usually die of disease, but that still leaves other options than suicide. The most common for males 15-24, according to http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/usa-cause-of-death-by-age..., are traffic accidents, violence, suicide, poisoning "other injuries," and drowning, in that order.

Traffic accident would have been my first guess, being the most common death cause amongst the people I knew. I didn't think of suicide till I read the comments.

CNN Money reports that it was confirmed suicide.

CNN Money says a source close to the company confirmed it was a suicide:


It's not just our community. There are twice as many suicides as homicides in the U.S.[1] Yet, every nightly newscast is sure to cover the murders. How many talk about the suicides? Worse, suicide is the leading cause of death among college students [2]. It's an epidemic that no one talks about. We've already lost two freshman at MIT this year.

[1] http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/09/01/suicide-vs-homicide-b...

[2] http://www2.dailyprogress.com/news/2011/nov/07/uva-study-sui...

The US loses about as many troops to suicide as combat. :( http://www.congress.org/news/2011/01/24/more_troops_lost_to_...

I think we'd have a much more harmonious society if we put lithium in the water rather than fluoride. http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/194/5/464.abstract

The suggestion is treating the symptoms rather than the cause though.

If, instead of just putting fluoride in the water, there was a serious effort made to reduce the amount of refined sugars in our diets, there would be many more arguably beneficial effects other than just reducing tooth decay.

Similarly, instead of thinking about lithiated water, we should really try to treat some of the causes of suicide.

I'm not sure about how it is in USA but a lot of countries have strict rules around the media reporting suicides, so it is deliberate that the topic is under reported.

Naturally a lot of people disagree with this and there's constantly heated debate on the future of the media's role.

They do tend to cluster, and more so when they're in the public eye.

Yeah, they are completely avoided in Australia, only time you really hear about one in the media is if it was a public figure. I don't really think this is the right thing to do, it masks that there is any problem so it doesn't get the attention it needs.

The more you talk about suicide, the more people commit it. It's a terrible conundrum in spreading awareness of how many people actually commit suicide. If there is a high-profile case of suicide reported, there will usually be an uptick in suicide and single car, single-passenger car crashes by people in similar demographics. There is an entire section in Cialdini's book Influence, on the social proof of suicide, and I just recently heard this Freakonomics podcast on the subject http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/08/31/new-freakonomics-radi...

The usual codewords are "Police say there were no suspicious circumstances".

It's against broadcasting rules to publish anything relating to suicide. Especially euthanasia.

I gather that exceptions are made for exceptional news.

Background to the debate (and the origin of the strict rules in the first place): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copycat_suicide

I worked for a newspaper in Texas, and the editors told us not to cover suicides.

In France there is four times more deaths from suicide than deaths in a car crash. Yet we have countless cops constantly roaming around, and millions spent on automated speed cameras, in the name of a policy vowed to reduce "unacceptable" life losses, but ignores the fact that 32k people actually die here per year out of sheer helplessness and despair. Somehow I can't help but think that people up there are missing something when they keep throwing money at compressing a number resulting from statistically ineluctable collisions of numerous moving objects (whose seriousness and frequency drops could just as well be explained by combined and massive improvements made to car safety, making the policy look like even more futile), while a little education of people would actually help some of us recognize early and/or late signs of depression on third parties, allowing for professional help to be reached soon enough. Depression is a bit like drowning: it actually looks nothing like you think it does, but one can be trained to recognize it [0] and reach for competent help accordingly.

[0]: http://mariovittone.com/2010/05/154/

Well at least suicide is a legitimate personal choice. Murder is not.

I'm not sure anyone that depressed is entirely capable of "choice".

And this is probably not the best moment for ethical theory.

Just like how Depression is a choice and OCD is a choice and Schizophrenia is a choice.

Your views on mental health are a bit last century.

Suicide isn't a mental illness like depression and OCD and Schizophrenia. While I do agree that this isn't the best time for "ethical theory," I also agree with thomasgerbe in that suicide is a fundamental human right. If one has no desire to continue living, who are you to force them to?

Of course suicide isn't a mental illness. How about you have a look at some facts from the US NIMH [1], how about I summarise some poignant facts:

"Research shows that risk factors for suicide include: depression and other mental disorders, or a substance-abuse disorder (often in combination with other mental disorders). More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors."

So, you're happy to condemn 90% of people who commit suicide to go and 'make that choice' because 'it's their right'?

I don't disagree that it's anyone's so-called 'right' to kill themselves, but when 90% of individuals who do so are suffering from mental illness or substance abuse disorders, I think it's far to broad and naive (not to mention downright heartless) to fob it off as a mere 'choice'.

Have you known anyone personally who's comitted suicide? I bet that if someone close to you, whom was having a hard time (by stretch of the mind I wouldn't say it's too difficult to imagine in this economy, the loss of a job and a home could be a sufficient trigger for a Major Depressive Episode), decided to kill themselves over a temporary hardship.

I doubt you'd merely say "well, it was their choice". I bet you'd rethink your statement and your position. You my friend are very wrong.

[1] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-in-the-u...

I never condemned anyone, nor did I say that I support suicide. What I support is the ability to choose freely the course of one's life.

I'm curious to know what percentage of the general population suffers from mental and/or substance abuse disorders, in comparison with that 90%.

And no, I have not known anyone personally who has killed themselves, at least not to the best of my knowledge. I do know, however, that I myself suffer from a number of "mental disorders" and at one point found myself a good bit suicidal.

If someone close to me did kill themselves, of course I wouldn't just say "ah well," that's being unrealistic. I'd be just as affected by it as if they got hit by a bus. My views on death are much different than most, though, so regardless of the manner or intent, it wouldn't affect me anywhere near the same way as you. No position changed, you lose your bet.

"Have you known anyone personally who's comitted suicide?"

Yes. My cousin did by jumping and my sister attempted by overdose. Though I called an ambulance which saved her life. I won't argue that people shouldn't intervene when they can.

'I doubt you'd merely say "well, it was their choice". I bet you'd rethink your statement and your position.'

Not really. She's gone through a lot of shit. Meds. Psychiatrist. Friends. Hobbies. Boyfriends. Family. They help but they aren't the answer to everyone. And so if she attempts to commit suicide again and is successful I would be deeply saddened but at least know that she found a peace that she couldn't find in life.

Hell, even I experience that same lows. What is the point of having someone suffer through an existence which there is no solution that corrects the problem?

Both depression/suicide and dietary habits run in families and reoccur over multiple generations.

Low serum cholesterol has been shown to be a suicide risk factor. [1]

Get you cholesterol tested and try adding more good fats to your diet like oily cold-water fish (think salmon and sardines), butter, eggs (including the yolk!), and coconut milk/oil. You should aim for a low LDL and a high HDL number.

Anecdotally, have you ever seen how most teens and soldiers in the US eat? Their diets are low on good fats and high in bad carbohydrates that will send your cholesterol and triglyceride levels out-of-wack. A diet of Red Bull and Doritos will mess you up.

[1] http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/...

You have a misunderstanding of the causes of suicide. Read "Suicide as Escape From Self".

The complication is that most life choices are to some extent reversible in case of mistake. Suicide is not, and therefore is subject to more delicate considetation. Also, for anyone not a hermit, suicide affects other people who may have moral or legal claims of dependency.

Your ability to make this decision would be impaired if you had a mental illness like depression.

Depression is a choice? You surely don't know how Depression work. You don't choose getting into a car accident, in the same way you don't choose Depression. Stuffs happen, not because people "chose" it.

The person you're replying to was being sarcastic. He was not being serious when he said "depression is a choice", etc. He was trying to highlight what he saw as the absurdity of the post to which he was replying.

Depression is a choice as much as feeling pain is a choice. Some people can cope with it, others cannot. Persistence will break down any coping mechanisms.

I remember being depressed with suicidal thoughts, and basically spending the full night telling myself to stfu because I refuse to do it, yet I could not control the thoughts, only the actions taken. It was very difficult, basically the rational part of the brain desperately battling with the emotional part, and that emotional part does not seem to get tired... I cannot imagine people living this way for extended periods of time, would require help from people who care, and reaching out to em.

The down side is that depression has a component of hopelessness to it which prevents people from reaching out to others where had they had a well balanced state of mind they would.

To me, suicide is murder of self. Who's sicker: the one murdering another, or the one murdering oneself? Also, many murderers kills others first, then themselves.

Maybe this Diaspora fellow thought people wanted to kill him, so he thought he'd do it himself to save them the trouble because he'd already let them down once. Who knows.. but that's an ill thought process to have.

I may be the odd man out here, but I have to say that I think suicide is a inalienable right. If I own nothing else in this world, the one thing I most certainly do own is my person. If I choose to dispose of myself, that's my right and it should be respected. While I agree that depression and other mental issues are often serious and require serious help, ultimately the decision to stay or go should be mine and should be respected. If I insist on checking out, then law and community ought to allow me to do it.

Tangentially, there should be a streamlined euthanasia option to those serving very long prison sentences.

I may be the odd man out here, but I have to say that I think suicide is a inalienable right. If I own nothing else in this world, the one thing I most certainly do own is my person. If I choose to dispose of myself, that's my right and it should be respected.

For what it's worth, you're not the only one who believes that. My world-view is also heavily rooted in the notion of "self ownership," and I hold that an individual has a right to end their life whenever they want.

That's not to say that suicide is (often|ever|usually|whatever) a good idea; and I'd be the last to encourage someone to commit suicide. But it is a right, and I believe it can even be a totally rational choice in some cases.

Part of what liberty means is being able to exercise your rights even when they are bad ideas.

When you take yourself out, you take other people out too psychologically - relatives and close friends. Is that your right, and would you check with them beforehand? And what of the people you might have helped or saved had you lived?

If you have the right to your own life, then do you have any obligation to other people's lives? Also, how do you know you own yourself: did you create yourself or did your parents? And who created them? Would you ask your creator if it's okay to suicide, and then would you be open to answers?

Lastly, are you sure you die when you die: how do you know the pain won't go on someplace else?

From my reading, suicide thought is a transient state but with permanent consequences if acted upon.

Also, the best way to fix your mind, is to fix your body, rather than destroy it.

The notions of creator and afterlife are pure fantasy, but if you believe the fantasy then the reasoning you layer on top of it is reasonably sound.

"are pure fantasy"

haha.. whatever you say.

It didn't really hit me until I stopped by his place. The only sign that something had happened was a paper tapped to a door saying "Party Cancelled". It's a really chocking feeling. I think I went there to know if it was true...to know what happened. As his death becomes more apparent, I don't care what happened. It's a huge loss. Ilya will be missed.

Very tragic. It's the strong mind people that are some of the most vulnerable.

RIP Ilya

You seem to be implying that he committed suicide, and that you could have done something about it.

Do you have any information about this? And why would you have been helpful in this situation?

Nothing to do with prayers. RIP Ilya.

Please, this is not the time.

The death of the founder of any well-known startup merits mention here. The startup community is a close knit global one, we don't just meet each other at professional networking events, we share our lives with each other.

Perhaps unlike any other profession we have a closeness that binds us, we socialize, we date, we make lifelong friends from within the startup community.

Even if we don't know the startup founder directly we know of their work, their successes and their failures, their contribution to the story of the startup world.

Speculation suggests that it may have been self-inflicted, even if it's not true, it's worth stepping back and appreciating the fact that startup founders often find themselves under immense pressure and often keep it quiet.

When's the last time you asked someone how their startup was doing to get a reply "not so good", founders are expected to be eternal optimists and this expectation can make it harder for those struggling or suffering to ask for help from their friends (who are often from the startup world themselves).

Maybe we need a Startups Anonymous to give founders a place where they can drop their public persona and be honest about the worries that are keeping them up at night.

Completely agree, and for that reason I started a meetup here in London recently called London Tech Founders Anonymous (http://www.meetup.com/LTechFA); we've had two great sessions thus far, and indeed as you've noted, one of the points raised in support of the initiative by attendees present at the inaugural session was the liberation of the format due to the group's aims; viz., steering participants away from the ubiquitous "We're killing it!" in favour of actual truth and deeper bonding/learning that, in my opinion, seems underserved in the community generally.

That being said, great initiatives like FailCon (http://thefailcon.com/) do exist, however I personally don't believe a consumption-centric format (i.e. standard lecture/conference/meetup format) will cut it; deep interaction and open sharing on a regular basis is the only way.

We in LTFA adhere to Chatham House rules (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chatham_House_Rule), so there is confidence when unburdening ourselves... and that's a big part of it, tbh!

We started doing this in Seattle last year with some success (http://startupsanonymous.com). I've kept it dormant during a busy move to New Orleans, but if anybody's interested in working together to get it started again I'm up for it. There's a need.

For what it's worth, I think something like Startups Anonymous is a fantastic idea.

When's the last time you asked someone how their startup was doing to get a reply "not so good", founders are expected to be eternal optimists and this expectation can make it harder for those struggling or suffering to ask for help from their friends (who are often from the startup world themselves).

So true, the need to keep that positive projection can really eat people up. It can even be really hard to complain or talk about the downside with friends and family. A mentor who's been through it themselves [1] may be one of the best ways to not only get advice but also release the stress by being really open about problems.

[1] best if they don't have a financial interst.

Startups Anonymous - that's actually a brilliant idea.

And we also need Plumber anonymous and Taxi driver anonymous...

Stop it! Don't downvote me just yet.

In all seriousness i think this is about expectations; not specifically related to start-ups or even business; expectations from parents, friends and even from yourself can be very stressful... and if you are prone to depression it just gets worse.

There are rumors that his death was self-inflicted, which is quite sad. Every time we see a young smart kid die like this, it should remind us to remember others as we go through our lives. Too often we ignore other peoples feelings, and then something like this happens. Take a moment to talk to the people you love to make sure something like this doesn't happen to them.

(If it turns out this is inaccurate, please excuse the speculation, but I still think this is important.)

> Take a moment to talk to the people you love to make sure something like this doesn't happen to them.

I think it makes it harder to do this for introverts, and there is a larger number of those in the tech community.

Also, perhaps electronic communication is not always adequate for this. So take the time to meet and visit in person.

Serious question, is "self-inflicted" a euphemism for "suicide"?

Yes "self-inflicted" is a medical/legal term which includes suicide.

In some jurisdiction there is a difference if "the balance of mind was disturbed" or if the coroner believed it was an attempted suicide (cry for help) that 'went wrong'

Ilya was an incredible person. His heart was truly driven by bringing about positive change in this world. Diaspora was only the beginning.

He was genuinely one of the kindest people I've ever met. Along with that, one of the most driven and intelligent peers I've ever encountered. Any time I ever had a chance to converse with him, it was always a very pleasant experience. He was someone I felt I had truly connected with. I only wish I could tell him that now.

Take care buddy. Thank you for enlightening me.

Really awesome guy, and there were so many other projects on the horizon. Truly sorry he won't be there to be a part of them.

I couldn't agree with you more. Ilya had the brain of a genius, an incredibly brilliant and extremely humble, which made him extremely unique. Ot top of that he was an idealist who also took action to create more good in the world. He had a big heart and a genius brain, I'm still struggling to accept that he's gone...

Just so. Ilya was one of the most creative and clear-eyed people I ever met. He had a gift for projecting possibilities into the future and condensing a great deal of thought into a few observations.

I was inspired by time spent with him, and my own ideas flourished as a result. It's painful to think that noone will get to talk or dream with him again, but I am grateful for the brief time I had.

On a flight from San Francisco to New York I had the good fortune to run into this gentleman. He was kind, thoughtful, and had a very deep sense of commitment to those who had donated funds and had put their hopes into Diaspora. His picture is one I expected to see again, just not like this.

Fuck everything about this piece of news. I knew him. I can't believe I'm finding this out by logging into HN. Fuck.

Sorry man.

I just met Ilya a few weeks ago at Noisebridge.

As a community we rarely talk about the darker side of a startup. We make it seem like ancient Roman warriors on the quest to glory. In reality it can be a dark, depressing road. Depression is real and can hit harder than anything you've ever experienced.

How many people talk about how depression? How at times things will seem so hopeless that you won't have anywhere to turn? It is certainly not the most popular topic.

Why don't we wait for official comment before speculating on the cause of his death. The last thing his family/friends/coworkers need is false rumors. Not saying they're necessarily false or correct, I just think we should wait out of courtesy. I know I'd hope people do that if I died...

This is too sad. Only 21 for goodness sake; his life was just beginning. Even without having known him, this feels painful and I cannot imagine what his family and friends are going through. I'm reminded of a Yoruba (West African language) saying to "kill someone alive", i.e. effect of something so painful on a person such that although technically alive, for all intents and purposes, he/she is dead. How does one possibly (if ever) recover from losing a child/sibling/friend in this way?

My condolences to all who knew him.

Wow. I never met Ilya in person, but I spoke with him several times via a private mailing list of people doing social network research. This is incredibly unfortunate. In my limited interactions with him he was always incredibly intelligent and willing to help out others.

I'm reminded of Gene Kan, but I am unsure if the circumstances are similar:


The similarities are that there was considerable press coverage of Diaspora and that they seemed, at least to me, destined to fail mostly just because it was a hard thing to do given their structure. It is a true shame that this individual took the failure personally as it wasn't at all his fault, again it was primarily structural in my opinion. Gene Kan I understand was somewhat susceptible for other reasons to depression.

Tweets from ~12 hours ago suggest that the circumstances are indeed similar.


> It is a true shame that this individual took the failure personally

Did you know him? Is this just speculation?

Vitamin D levels affect state of mind, and if you're coding through the night and sleeping through the day, you're probably low on Vit D levels - or rather, you could be a lot higher if you wanted to.

There was a double-blind study which showed very significant improvements in healthy college students' self-reported cheerfulness when they took >=400 IU of vitamin D in the winter. The results were surprisingly strong:


So, I would say that taking vitamin D in the winters is a good idea.

I used to get Seasonal Affective Disorder every year around this time. Since starting on Vitamin D, the symptoms have yet to return. It's also improved my sleep patterns.

Me too, bought a SAD light or a happy light as I like to call it. Seems to help in the British winters.

I commented above that low cholesterol is a risk for suicide as well. [1] A diet of Red Bull and Doritos contains very little of the healthy fats that your body needs.


Anyone passing at such a young age is simply a massive tragedy.

I find it very saddening that so many people here are speculating that Ilya committed suicide. It's disrespectful to speculate, especially in such a case. Get a life.

I am touched by the loss of Ilya.

Kipling's "IF" seems an appropriate addition to the discussion thread tonight. --- IF.....

IF you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don't deal in lies, Or being hated, don't give way to hating, And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise: If you can dream - and not make dreams your master; If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, ' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch, if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

--- Thank you Ilya.

"Zhitomirskiy committed suicide, a source close to the company confirmed to CNNMoney."


Holding out hope here... but this whole ball started rolling with one tweet like 14 hours ago. I haven't seen a single source confirm anything yet. Any chance the net is getting punk'd right now?

as his roommate i can confirm that he has indeed passed away. i thank you for your hope and optimism, but sadly these things can only go so far sometimes. life and death are very real and very sudden things, and i hope that his memory spurs you to fight for what you believe in while you can. goodness knows he did.

Can you tell us how? My condolences. I was watching a couple interviews with Ilya on Youtube and it's clear he was a very bright kid with a lot of potential.

Sarah Mei, currently a member of the core dev team, posted this:

> I've lost a friend, and it's been techcrunched.


Things like this often give me pause for thought. Often this community, and indeed myself, drive myself to attain better results, and generally push towards a wealthy career, so often we can forget what is truly important.

I'm a religious person, so often this translates to worrying about how I'm prepared should I also meet an early grave, but its important that in times like this that we also see the importance of others in our lives, our family, relationships etc.

Easy to forget that the thing we work so hard for can be wiped away in a split second.

My deepest sympathies to all involved.

Much too young. The poor guy.

We'll miss you, Ilya. Thanks for your guidance and friendship.

So sorry to hear that Ilya's gone. I only had a chance to meet him a few times, but I found him intelligent, thoughtful and friendly.

I don't know the circumstances of his death, but I do hope that his family and colleagues get to see what an impact it's had on the hacker community.

I look forward to hearing ways that they'd like us to honour his passing; until then I'm going to do it the way I know best -- keep hacking.

Very sad news. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.

How did he die?


How do you know?

Because people don't say "he died suddenly" without saying the cause unless it was suicide.

Not really. There are several causes of death where this is the case, though admittedly suicide is one of them.

It could also be exhaustion from too much sex or something similarly private, and his family/friends wouldn't say anything about cause of death either. Give him the benefit of doubt, will you?

If rumors are true, my finger is pointing to the get-rich-easy self-promotion advocates like [you know who]. There are many kids in the coming generation who took their nonsense too seriously, sometimes like a cult. Just to make a few bucks selling books. No harm done, right?

Sometimes deep (non-organic) depression can be a clue to the revelation that you've been untrue to your own nature. The depression is an opportunity to review what you've been doing, what you've been missing, and make plans to recreate your life in a way that's more positively rewarding.

It's awful to see young lives wasted in this way... whether they're 'promising' in conventional ways or not. Many people have made it through The Abyss to go on to great things - which can include things that are completely unimportant to society at large. No need to be engulfed by the values of others. Be true to yourself.

This is now the top story on the front page of Yahoo UK, with a large picture of Ilya. I'm not sure what to make of that.

I suppose one thing we can learn here is to be more sensitive about other peoples' work. Sometimes tech-related articles/comments/rants take a very harsh tone, and even though it might be valid criticism, it's easy to forget that some developer might have poured his/her heart and soul into what you're dismissing (or even ridiculing).

"We shall have to work faster."


Even if it was suicide, this too we will overcome.

Considering loneliness is often associated with depression and suicide, it's interesting that his project was pure social networking.

Very sad to hear. My sincere condolences.

In case the other thread won't bubble to the front page (though I expect it will):

CNN confirmed it was suicide: http://money.cnn.com/2011/11/14/technology/diaspora_cofounde...

Very sad news indeed.

I hope the passing of a co-founder doesn't result in the passing of the project as well.

Baruch dayan H'emet. This is very tragic. Nothing else to say. Rest in peace.

Regarding telling suicidal people to think about the people who care about them before taking their lives...some suicidal people don't have anyone who cares about them. That's why they're suicidal.

Poor man. I've been through some of what he must have experienced to come to his conclusion and it's very unpleasant. I hope his family and friends are all OK.

22 years. That's no time at all, not on this planet.

Extremely sad over the untimely death at a very young age. May his soul RIP. Prayers and condolences to all his near and dear ones.

RIP. So young :/ not that it makes much of a difference now, but I hope it was peaceful.

This is extremely shocking! He was much too young! :(

So sad. Rest in peace.

Rest in peace.

Rest in peace.

so sad :(

This is really sad. My condolences to his friends and family.

Who let people start dying this fall!!?!

this somehow reminds me of the movie "Antitrust" ...

Young programmer working on an open source competitor to large company suddenly dies.

Insensitive perhaps, and I don't believe anything similar happened, but FWIW I had the same thought.

what a senseless death

There is no point to speculating. If they don't want to say just leave it at that.

As long as someone close to the deceased has chosen not to share the matter, we should respect their decision.

It's the case where no close family/friends have expressed such a decision that concern should be raised... and it's hard to determine without good reportage.

it's basic human nature to speculate

that's why the news of Michael Jackson's death caused Twitter and even Google to crash

I think we like to hold ourselves to a higher level of discussion here than your average tabloid.

it's basic human nature to speculate

Maybe, but it remains a choice whether or not to say something.

Conventional manners tend to lean toward "not" in this context.

If you simply must speculate, you should at least try to remain tactful and be careful not to speculate too wildly (there are more likely and less slanderous reasons for a cause of death to be omitted than drugs or alcohol). Please remember, this is a person who was loved by many other people. Don't inflict pain needlessly.

"that's why the news of Michael Jackson's death caused Twitter and even Google to crash"

Google did not crash, an automated system blocked the queries as they looked like spam.

Honestly, as someone who interacted with him via email, the cause didn't even cross my mind.


What purpose do stories like this serve? People consider asking for details to be rude. Other than tabloid style storytelling drama, why else should strangers care?

This man died young, but so did the local 19 year old young woman killed just after midnight by a driver just after she rescued an injured dog from the road.

You can already see someone saying the cause of death does not matter, but why does this death announcement matter?

edit: Poster removed his admonishment regarding questions about the cause of death.

People close to this person obviously will suffer due to their loss, but his death announcement gets posted here in some sort of limbo where no one (or very few) knew him. But we must respond with condolences to people we don't know about a person we only know though his involvement in a web application.

edit2: Twitter messages directed at the deceased indicate suicide.

No, you must not respond; you are not obliged to make any comment on his death. In fact, it would be nice if you specifically refrained from making a comment arguing about whether his death was important in the middle of a thread where everyone else is offering their condolences; including, I would assume, some people who knew him personally. This is a matter of being human.

>In fact, it would be nice if you specifically refrained from making a comment arguing about whether his death was important in the middle of a thread where everyone else is offering their condolences

You just highlighted exactly what I tried to write about! Why have a thread full of condolences from strangers directed at strangers and shun any actual discussion?

Most people clicked the story to find out the cause of death. If this young man indeed killed himself, we could have a reasonable discussion about the stresses of life and specifically related to tech, but we can't.

Instead, I strongly believe that most (if not all) condolences posted here come from people fulfilling a social expectation rather than a specific feeling towards this person.

I would hope those who knew this person and know his surviving friends and family have a more direct line of communication than comments on news.yc.

Why have a thread full of condolences from strangers directed at strangers and shun any actual discussion?

Because this is how people deal with the existence of death, and they appreciate having a place to pay their respects independent of having an "actual discussion." Why do you think that ceremonial burial is a near-universal element of human culture? A breaking-news thread announcing a person's early death is a terrible place to have a discussion about "the stresses of life...related to tech." You should have that discussion inside your head, and then engage other people with it at a time when they did not just hear about someone's suicide.

9oliYQjP did a pretty good job.

Respectfully, it's also about logistics. If we started posting deaths of everyone involved in startups or 'tech', that's all HN would be full of.

I appreciate the tradeoff, but I don't think that's the case. There are probably only a few thousand people who are on a level of notability to this audience as the young founder of a heavily-hyped project like this. There are many threads on the front page that seem a lot less newsworthy or thought-provoking.

And if everybody was a plumber, society could not function. This is such an uninteresting observation. Making something universal is usually impractical — that doesn't reflect on the thing itself, except to say that it requires some amount of time or space.

If suicide does turn out to be the cause of death, it is worth talking about. I won't say that there's nothing more tragic than suicide, but it is certainly senseless/needless in almost all cases.

The more awareness of suicide, the risk factors, and how to not tread into that space, the better.

We don't talk about suicide in society very well let alone within the startup community. Founders find themselves in extremely stressful situations and living lifestyles that exacerbate the effects of this stress. Remember to eat well, try to get some routine exercise, seek both quality and quantity of sleep, and have a couple of confidants that you can rant to. Remember that the alpha males spouting off about toughness and pulling death march schedules while eating nothing but energy bars and coffee are often the ones hurting most (i.e., just like how a lot of the most vehement homosexual bashers turn out to be homosexual).

I know YC likes to promote flocking together as founders, but I think it's really healthy to have one or two close confidants that are completely outside the startup community. You need to be able to rant to these people and unwind emotionally. A lot of your rants might be non-sensical, might be hypocritical, and even a tad self-centred. The last thing you need is another opinion in that situation, especially one telling you you're wrong for feeling the way you do. You're least likely to find one from people that simply aren't interested in entrepreneurship.

> The more awareness of suicide

Suicide has a strong triggering effect; see "Werther effect".

Talking about suicide has to be done carefully to avoid triggering further suicidal behaviour; especially after someone has just completed suicide.

I'd agree that more awareness of suicide prevention is very important.

I receive annual suicide awareness training at work. One of the things they train us to do is, if we suspect someone might be considering suicide, to ask point-blank: "Are you thinking about hurting yourself." Most people will answer honestly, and then you can get them help if they need it. So while discussing suicide in the abstract can trigger others to commit suicide, discussing it directly with a potentially suicidal person is a critical first step in preventing suicide. Also, most people don't know what to do when dealing with someone suicidal, and the only way to teach them is to talk about it, which creates a bit of a catch-22 when you combine that with the Werther effect.

I have also heard that if a person is all of the sudden talking about buying a gun or telling others how they would never commit suicide, out of the blue, one should be very worried about them.

The gun thing / statement thing is also an indicator that someone is being threatened. Bad either way.

Yes, this is important.

There's a big difference between talking directly to a person who may be suffering, when you should be direct and then be able to guide them towards help; and talking in a thread like this with a lot of speculation and abstract talk about suicidal behaviours.

tl:dr - you're right, and I missed the point you made in my post.

Thank you for mentioning that. It is very paradoxical and quite an unfortunate phenomenon. And I think it is very real. I have a sample of one (a local high school) that suffered what seemed like a large cluster of suicides within a short time range. Then found out about Werther effect.


I am not for censoring information but maybe an admonition to refocus on checking up on friends who might be depressed or stressed out, without specifically mentioning the word "suicide".

During my sophomore year of high school, there was a string (about once every other week) of suicides. They were all linked in some way, a nasty chain of relationships. I think some of the early talk might have kept the chain going. The high school finally sent for proper grief counselors from the local university. It had been 3 or 4 months of gloom. I am not sure if they helped or it was just an ending, but they did stop (could have been the ending of winter thinking about it).

The truly sad part (beyond the ending of so many young lives) was the utter cynicism the rest of us got to. The grief counselor who was dealing with our class was utterly horrified by us wondering how anyone commits suicide by using a door knob and how we concluded that someone was using the suicides to hide a murder. Looking back, I suppose it was a coping mechanism.

Take care of your fellows and don't fool around non-professionals.

My condolences to his family and friends.

A good example of the Werther effect is the string of copycat suicides in South Korea after an actress, Lee Eun-Ju, took her own life in 2005. After her death, the suicide rate of the general population in Korea spiked with notable celebrities also taking their own lives. Here's a frightening statistic from the LA Times "In South Korea, 15,413 took their lives that year [2009], or 28.4 for every 100,000 residents."

As an individual who has overcome manic depression and dealt with suicide personally and amongst friends, it is a difficult issue to approach and conquer, especially because when caught in a downward spiral everything seems to perpetuate it and nothing seems to help. It is not enough to simply ask if a friend is doing alright or has harmful intentions but it takes a person (family or friend) who can weather the storm with them. I feel that it is almost equally difficult for the person helping because they have to be willing to listen to and be understanding of the irrational thoughts that plague a suicidal mind. From an outside perspective, the burden of the troubled is vastly greater than the burden upon a helping hand but I think the cumulative process of helping someone can be equally detrimental and taxing. I hate to make a movie reference but the movie What Dreams May Come paints a good metaphor of the risks involved with trying to pull someone out of their sorrow, although not quite as dramatic.

Without a baseline, how would I be able to tell if those statistics were frightening?

> The Werther effect not only predicts an increase in suicide, but the majority of the suicides will take place in the same or a similar way as the one publicized. The more similar the person in the publicized suicide is to the people exposed to the information about it, the more likely the age group or demographic is to commit suicide. The increase generally happens only in areas where the suicide story was highly publicized.

(From Wikipedia which turn quoted Meyers, David G. (2009). Social Psychology (10th Ed). New York: McGraw Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-337066-8).

Excellent response. This is surely a worthy topic to discuss yet must done carefully as I'm sure many can relate to this tragedy in some aspect.


I'm not affiliated.

Please use use this service if you are even remotely affected by this discussion in a negative way. I fear this will escalate and push a reader over the edge who doesn't think they have an alternative. They do. If you are one of these, please seek help.

Keep their number in your phone. Hopefully you'll never need it, but IMO it's the second most important number after 911. Even if you have had a little bit of training, helping a suicidal person can be very bewildering and difficult, so if you find yourself unable to act effectively, you can pull out your phone, dial this number, and get help from an expert. I know people who are alive because somebody else (in one case a complete stranger) had this number in their phone:

1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

If you find yourself dealing with a suicidal person and you don't have this number handy, dial 911.

Talking about must be done carefully. Suicide appears to be "contagious": http://www.mindframe-media.info/site/index.cfm?display=84352 so special care should be taken about reporting it. There are some guidelines for the media, e.g. http://www.samaritans.org/media_centre/media_guidelines.aspx

I met him at Burning Man this year, had a couple of good conversations with him, and have "email Ilya" as a current item on my to-do list. This is the first I've heard of his death. :-( His close friends may not be getting this news through HN, but surely a number of acquaintances are.

It's not a question of "importance" or "purpose", it's a question of interest or relevance.

This young man's death is just as "important" as the young woman you mention...they are both tragedies, they both will leave an indelible wound on many people's lives.

However, this is a social news site for the tech community. The young woman's death is not covered here because it's not relevant to the tech community.

This young man started (with others) a project which is followed, used, and worked on by many in the tech community...it's of interest to them that one of the initiators died just as any other major development would be. It's also safe to say that there are a few people here who either knew him personally or had had some interaction with him, so it's of interest to the community when one of it's own dies.

Any time you load Hacker News there will probably be some stories that don't interest you. However, as long as they follow the community guidelines, are relevant to hackers, etc...it's best to simply skip them.

As for your other point(s), I agree somewhat with what you seem to be saying. I don't think it's rude per se to respectfully ask if anyone happens to know the cause of death. I would find it more rude to speculate. I also agree that a bunch of strangers offering their condolences doesn't accomplish or mean much, but I can also appreciate that people are just trying to be nice to anyone who did know him who happens to be reading.

Most of us know about Diaspora, and some want it to succeed . That is reason enough to care about the lives of the project founders, regardless of whether or not we know who they are.

Also, who are you to say that nobody here knew him?

I knew Ilya from NoiseBridge. He was always a cool guy to hang with, and get advice from.

He will be missed.

He was actively engaged in trying to spur change in the tech community which makes it something that can become newsworthy, especially when you consider the lost potential.

Indeed. It's exactly because of the work that he was doing that his passing is a meaningful thing to find its way to HN. Honestly, even if he wasn't doing any of that work, I'm of the mind that most people have a story in their lives and most are worth hearing, even if painful.

In any case, I just donated to the project: https://www.diasporafoundation.org/donate – maybe something good can come from something so sad.

I hope he had a cryonics contract.


In reading the above, some people might think it insensitive to 'peddle' this here, and I almost censored myself because of that.

But that's not helpful at all.

People are dying unnecessarily because they don't understand physics, cognitive neuroscience, and the possibilities the future allows.

May he live again conditional on him being cryo-preserved. Otherwise, it is sad news that yet another human has been annihilated.

I agree with your sentiment - it is, however, questionable to bring this up in threads like these where the community is still reeling from a loss. While I believe cryo preservation is a good idea in general, you must know that most people don't do this and are in fact strongly opposed to the idea. That means you are unlikely to convince people who are not already in favor of the concept. Also in this special case please keep in mind that the guy committed suicide, so talk about cryonics is just about the opposite of what is needed right now.

Saving people from destruction includes much more mundane things, such as getting timely and competent help when mental health problems arise - and, just as importantly, striving to keep a community friendly and supportive. Clinical depression is often a chronic and idiopathic illness, but crises can still be triggered by external influences and social support does play a critical role in the way an afflicted person deals with their problems. And that is something we should be working on.

>> Also in this special case please keep in mind that the guy committed suicide

from the article:

"The cause of death is currently unconfirmed."

With due respect, cryonics won't work. Why? Because "I am a strange loop" as Hofstadter would put it. We are NOT the code. We are the code execution. Think of the human subject as a really complicated, recursive sort of while(1) loop. When the program ends, we end. You can freeze the source code all you want - possibly even restart it but there is no reason I know of to think that such a restarted program would be "me", more like a fascmile of "me". I could be wrong, but not sure why I would be.

When I save the state of RAM to nonvolatile storage, then later put it back into RAM and continue executing, there are senses in which you could legitimately say it's not the same program. But they're not the senses I care about.

So DNA would be 'the code', and our environment would be 'the input' and we would be the code processing the input? Cool.

You should've censored yourself anyway. That is insensitive. What if it was your mother and some stranger said that? Come on, that's something you talk about when a person is alive, not when people are grieving. No one wants to learn about the science or pseudoscience of cronies when in mourning. Just, come on.... Really?!

I shouldn't have responded to this. Should've let it die and get buried but that kind of upset me.

If cryonics does work out, then bringing it up at inappropriate times could save lives. Please don't be angry at an honest attempt to prevent some people from dying.

This isn't the funeral for the fella.

Being able to discuss taboo subjects is what makes it great to be an intellectual after all - why are they taboo? is the reason a good or illogical?

In this case, death is bad, very bad. Something to resist with all our might, and cryonics is one just one tool in saving lives (yes, you are not dead until your actual neurons irrecoverably die). No need to go into the details of information theoretic death, just look into it yourself.

The point is, people deal with the concept of death in ways to prevent the unpleasant thought that you WILL die. One of these ways is to celebrate what a great life this person had, how sad it is that they have died but they had a good life. It's slightly more obvious that this person did not in fact have a good life (he only had 21 years), but the argument applies to all ages.

It's precisely why I decided to not self-censor here. I wanted to point out that we shouldn't celebrate death. Don't let death become something slightly more inevitable in your mind, fight it!

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