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Tech’s Relationship With Depression, Suicide and Asperger’s (zdnet.com)
103 points by minecraftman 1999 days ago | hide | past | web | 17 comments | favorite

This struck a chord with me:

Failure, failing, and being “a failure” is such a part of tech culture that it is a cultural locus for entire posts, blogs, pep talks and conventions.

Failure is universally feared and derided, yet framed and re-framed again and again as a means of staying positive, of learning from mistakes, of using failure as a measure of working hard for success.

The ideal of success in tech is married to the terror of failure.

In that I can definitely relate to the "fear of failure" thing. Especially being one of the older guys doing this stuff, and walking around with a constant feeling of "I haven't done anything yet, and I'm pretty much down to my last shot." But by the same token, I'm always reminded of something I heard a long time ago:

"In business, you only have to be right once."

I find that thought to be a powerful antidote to some of the darker thoughts that creep in from time to time. I keep reminding myself that if this idea doesn't pan out, that it's entirely possible that the next one will be "the one" so to speak.

What undoubtedly makes it worse is the public nature of tech culture, populated with gossip bloggers happy to run any item for page views, the better if it humiliates their competitors. Add to this that the very nature of tech work itself is inherently isolating.

This may be one advantage to being on the East Coast and removed from the typical SV gossip machine and echo chamber. Nobody really talks about what we're doing, and the only time my blog posts make it to HN (or similar) is usually when I post them. And even that's usually just because I'm curious to see if anybody has anything to say. So we get to sorta "fly under the radar" at least so far. Thinking about it, that might actually be one good reason to adopt a least a "semi stealth" approach to your startup... perhaps it's a way to not go soliciting pressure and expectations until you're really ready for them.

Failure is necessary. We all explore new territories by testing boundaries (is this fire safe to touch?). Failure is just a way of finding out boundaries. We do not have enough sense mechanisms to navigate us freely through different dimensions (social, artistic, musical, business, etc) of the world. We are in a way like blind people, touching the walls of the dark room and building a map of it.

But once you've mapped out a certain dimension (let's say you learned how to draw a human face) you are better off. Even though your first 100 sketches will probably suck.

Now, what is stupid is:

a) Telling other people fire is safe to touch even though it's not. That's just blatantly stupid, if you're not gaining anything from disinformation you're being a total moron and fucking up a potentially useful connection to that person.

b) Touching fire again and again in hope of a different result.

I've found this article to be quite disproportionate.

For instance, assuming this kid committed suicide because of Diaspora and not because of something else, without any facts beside a weak wishful association; that's not serious.

It's kind of amusing the hysteric importance people give to media startups which is of no concern but for those involved, that is the authors and the media coverage.

Not only that, but I can only wander how the article's author managed to tie suicide, autism and then give us a brief merchandised solution, in such a few paragraphs with any hint of truth.

> Not only that, but I can only wander how the article's author managed to tie suicide, autism

There are a number of correlations between autism and suicide risk factors. Being male; social isolation; lack of support structures; etc.

Thank you for this. One of the links in the article was rather helpful in putting words to things in my past. :)


I'd like to echo that sentiment.

From personal experience, I agree with the aane.org post that hackers may perceive the Cognitive Behavior Therapy framework as an authoritarian intervention on their value system. As the author puts it:

“ I value my own forceful beliefs and ubiquitous questions, my own Utilitarian sense of morality. Many of the theories espoused by cognitive therapists I simply do not agree with–and yet I am told what I must believe if I wish to get better. ”

A couple years ago I've found ACT ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acceptance_and_commitment_thera... ) as a much more viable alternative, and thought I'd like to share it here. Here's a succinct summary of ACT's difference from CBT from Wikipedia:

“ Rather than trying to teach people to better control their thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories and other private events, ACT teaches them to "just notice," accept, and embrace their private events, especially previously unwanted ones. ACT helps the individual get in contact with a transcendent sense of self known as "self-as-context"—the you that is always there observing and experiencing and yet distinct from one's thoughts, feelings, sensations, and memories. ”

The "self-as-context" concept is particularly close to the flow experience we constantly experience during hacking.

I've since devised a mnemonic, based on the familiar Git workflow, that captures the essence of ACT's process to improve one's psychological flexibility:

  * [Fetch] factual information
  * [Merge] with understanding
  * [Commit] to an action
  * [Push] it out of mind
Hopefully it'd be helpful, or at least amusing, to HN folks here. :-)

There are a few similar approaches out there, which perhaps go even further towards allowing change to happen (or not happen) through self awareness. I especially like hakomi therapy which takes a fundamental stance that the therapist should first of all support the person in being exactly who he or she is in this moment.

I also very much like "The Work" of Byron Katie, an extremely simple technique for becoming more aware of my expectations of how people should be which helps me become more accepting of how they actually are.

I've no idea whether these approaches are useful or appropriate for Asperger's but I like how they treat the 'current state' with respect rather than as a pathology.

That's Buddhism basically.

Only Buddhism doesn't use the scientific method. Unacceptable in a culture where we _try_ to use math to describe the economy, RDF to describe social interactions, and intelligent design to prove the existence of God.

For example, therapists teaching Ujjayi Pranayama (ocean sound breath) always start by mentioning that studies show how it helps x% of people with mood disorders.

Fetch Merge Commit Push -- I love this - thank you for sharing.

This is really cool; I'm going to have to try this, thank you!

Is there perhaps an age and gender variable coming in here?


Many people involved in small IT companies tend to be 19 to 24 and male?

I think age is definitely a factor, between the ages of 19 to 24 most people have a technical brilliance but don't have the mental experience to deal with emotional stress that comes with failure and increased demands.

I think the real solution would be to avoid cutting off from society.Most experienced and stable techies have wives and some kids, this helps them keep their sanity.Having to go home to a loving wife and some children really refreshes a man and brings calmness to his mind.In my experience, techies with a family tend to be mentally balanced.

Perhaps techies who are mentally balanced in the first place are just more likely to have a partner and kids?

Whenever I worry about failing, I try to remind myself what Felix Dennis said,

"After a lifetime of making money and observing better men and women than me fall by the wayside, I am convinced that fear of failing in the eyes of the world is the single biggest impediment to amassing wealth. Trust me on this."

Of course, it's not just about wealth, but "success", whatever that means for you.

Here's my take on it, for what it's worth:

1) Getting mental health care (in the US) is difficult. There is still a social stigma, to be sure, but the bigger problem is that it's just hard to find it. I mentioned before that during a bout of depression, I called several psychiatrists' offices and left messages, and none of them even called me back to reject me, much less help me find care elsewhere. When you're already depressed, overcoming hurdles like this is the last thing you need.

2) Programming is isolating, and we many of us do it when we should be developing core social skills. I don't know about the rest of HN, but I got my first computer when I was eight years old (Commodore VIC-20). I became obsessed with computers, and spent an inordinate amount of my life with them. Sure, I had friends, but I don't think I spent as much time developing deep relationships and shared experiences as I should have. I went straight into college, with the goal of getting done as soon as possible in order to start working with computers. Around the age of 30, I realized I'd spent my career either sitting behind a computer alone, or dealing with fairly antagonistic personalities in meetings.

Personally, I'm a big fan of the gap year concept. Getting out, traveling, seeing how life happens in other parts of the world, and simply interacting with people outside of tech was a big eye-opener for me. I can't recommend strongly enough that, if you're around 20 and notice that you spend a lot of time with computers, and maybe aren't totally satisfied with your social life and set of life experiences, that you immediately consider going abroad for a year or two. Teach English. Join the Peace Corps. You will almost certainly learn valuable social skills that you don't even know you're missing.

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