Researchers found something relevant to people with depression while working on something else (original article at Independent.co.uk, tnx Andrew for the link).
In a nutshell, what they found was that people with severe depression had their body clock out of whack: they were essentially living in a different timezone. I don’t think it’s actually news to us, I wrote about this and it being the equivalent of jetlag in the BlueHackers HowTo. But, I do think it’s interesting in the sense that at least in the cases the researchers encountered, for people with severe depression there was a genetic cause. We like to know why things are the way they are, so this new info can help in that respect.
Modern life, in particular with the type of work many of us do, makes it really easy to stuff up your day and night rhythm, and also your eating pattern which is actually related to this as well. Getting your day/night, daylight and food intake patterns right is generally a very important base. Not for everybody, but I think definitely for most of us. And while some of these things might still be hard for some, they’re relatively easy steps compared to others. It’s worth a try and they’re also specifically things you can get external help with – you can get a friend to come by for a walk at a specific time of day, or go get a meal.
Once the new pattern is trained (can take up to three months but often it’s much sooner) you’ll find it much easier to stick to, and also that other tasks become easier.
Mind you, I’m very aware that this is still easier said than done – I have my own company arranged in such a way that it doesn’t create nasty work hours, but I also have a family and thus in the mayhem (or even just because of the weather) I sometimes lose (some of) the pattern for a while. But, I’m now aware of it and that does make a difference already – it’s easier to fix. Typically my food pattern stays ok, but the morning walk loses out (by the way, it may be an afternoon walk that works best for you).
Do you know what’s messed with my morning walk lately? The city council has closed off a footbridge crossing a creek (storm damage), and that was the only way through in that particular direction. I can create other walking loops but they’re less convenient for several reasons – I’ve walked some but it feels less comfortable. I’m generally ok with change but it’s funny how this is just very disruptive!
How do day/night, exercise and food patterns work for you, and how have you tweaked them to work better for you? Please tell, it will help others.
A young lawyer at one of Australia’s top law firms details how he felt the profession let him down when he began struggling with depression.
Some important lessons there…
It’s highly likely and expected that depression and anxiety are present in most if not all professions.
High pressure and long work hours don’t contribute to a healthy work environment. I personally regard suggestions that in some cases it’s unavoidable as daft. We have occupational health & safety regulations coming out of our ears, but a job destroying a person’s mental health is ok? Not with me.
Companies have a responsibility to care for their employees. They can develop mental health needs regardless of its origin. Ignoring it doesn’t make the issues go away, but it can cause the employee to have to leave at some point, or depart through even more sad circumstances. Is that acceptable practice? I don’t think it is. Companies can and should do better than that. And definitely do better than just pay lipservice to providing support.
I know of companies that have specifically requested bluehackers stickers from me. While that in itself is no guarantee that their mental healthcare support is up to scratch, but it’s a hopeful sign that they try to acknowledge and care.
I’ve been thinking about putting up a page on bluehackers where companies can explicitly declare support. They’d be listed with their name and logo and specific mental healthcare related things they’d like to say – in return they are of course open to scrutiny as to how they actually support their employees. If companies live up to these aspirations, (prospective) employees know they will have a mentally safe working environment. It can also serve as an example for other companies!
If you reckon such a page is a good idea, please comment on this post! Additional suggestions welcome as well, of course.
Guest post by John Dalton.
One of the many events I attended during the week of Linux.conf.au this year was a BoF session (“Birds of a Feather” – an informal discussion group) for BlueHackers, an organisation dedicated to raising awareness of depression within the geek community.
I think the event was very successful, with around 50 geeks in attendance. I spoke to the group, along with many others – here’s (roughly) what I had to say:
I think of myself as being a pretty bubbly, happy guy.
I have “been depressed” – I’ve had bouts of depression – but I don’t consider myself to be someone who “has depression”. This is a distinction which people who haven’t experienced clinical depression may have difficulty understanding.
I didn’t recognise the difference until I met a girl with clinical depression. This was something I knew, something she’d told me and which we’d discussed – but it took some time for me to realise I didn’t really understand.
My impulse when someone tells me about a problem is to try to solve it. We would talk about how she felt – I’d listen, and I’d try to suggest things she could do to feel better, actions she could take to improve various circumstances. I’d try to explain to her that things weren’t as bad as she thought, and that things would improve.
Her behaviour was erratic. Sometimes it would seem that after talking things over we’d solved all the problems, that things were on the way up. Then we’d talk again shortly after and I’d find out that things were just as bad as they’d always been.
Sometimes I would tell her that things would get better, and she would agree – she could explain how everything was going to improve, but I could see in her eyes that she just couldn’t bring herself to believe it.
The point at which I really knew for the first time that I didn’t understand what was going on was when she called me one night in tears, and told me she’d tried to kill herself.
To cut a long story slightly shorter, this event resulted in her being committed for a short stay in the psych ward at the hospital.
The girl I’m talking about later became my wife, and a couple of weeks ago we had our 11th wedding anniversary.
This episode early in our relationship taught us both a lot. For my part, I finally learned just what it means to be clinically depressed. I learned that this wasn’t something that was ever going to go away – that things could get better, but that it would take hard work and vigilance on both our parts – and that there’d be more bad times ahead to go with the good.
* * *
I think that our community is getting better at talking about depression, but that we might have a disadvantage when it comes to understanding it.
I think that people in our community are more likely than usual to take a hyper-rational, deconstructive approach to problem solving. This approach makes it more difficult for people to understand clinical depression without having experienced it themselves, and I suspect it makes people less likely to recognise it when it happens to them.
I’ve seen the pain in someone’s eyes, and heard the helplessness in their voice, when they’re confronted with situations and emotions they can’t think their way out of. When they look at the problem, figure out an approach to help deal with it, but then realise that they know – they just know with some part of themselves – that nothing they do will fix it.
I want to tell those people that they’re wrong, but the difficulty there is that if we leave it too late, that’s not a message that can get through.
The most important function of BlueHackers in my opinion, and in fact any organisation which deals with depression, is education. Learning is hardware hacking for your brain. I want everyone to do an include, to load a module, whichever metaphor you like – I want everyone to know now, when they can absorb the information, that you need to ask for help before you hit the bottom.
Recently I had a phone call from another friend of mine, from someone who had hit the bottom. My only wish is that they’d called me earlier, but luckily that person is still with us. I had told them to call me if they needed to – I’m so glad they did – and they said to me later that simply telling them to call me if they needed help was enough that, when they were convinced noone would care or help, they were pre-armed with that knowledge, those instructions – I care, and I will help.
I want you all to talk to your friends, your family, your colleagues, to strangers in this room – and let them know that you care. I want you to hack their brains, to perform a knowledge injection rather than an SQL injection – to try to innoculate them against the belief that noone cares, so that when it happens, they might remember that someone does.
I’m not a professional counsellor, I have no training in this area, and if you were to call me I would tell you that you need professional help – and I would try to help you get it. But I will also remind you that you are not alone, and that someone cares.
This is an open source conference, but we are an open source community. I think it’s important that we – as a community – talk about depression in its many forms, and that we’re there to help each other no matter what kind of depression someone might be going through.
I want to thank Arjen for his work on BlueHackers, for being brave enough to start something that needed to be done – and I hope that we can all reach the point where admitting that you’re depressed and that you need help is no longer an act of bravery.
I want you all to do two things:
- if you’re depressed, tell someone.
- if you know someone who’s depressed, talk to them and tell them you care.
It’s not enough, but it’s a start – and you could literally save a life.
Geeks & Depression BlueHackers BoF Wed 8.30pm – it’s happening!
A number of people have asked the LCA organisers to do something on the topic of depression at the conference. It’s an important topic close to the heart of many LCA attendees. LCA and BlueHackers had a chat, and we decided to run a BlueHackers BoF on Wednesday evening from 8.30pm in MCC2 (large room).
intro by Arjen Lentz (BlueHackers.org)
up to a handful lightning talks (confirmed: Paul Fenwick, John Dalton, Sarah Sharp)
general discussion (moderated)
There won’t be any taboo topics, however it is important to maintain a safe environment for everybody. A meeting like this is not therapy or a substitute for any form of professional help. It has however been found very beneficial to hear from others about their experiences and to discuss what tips and tricks work for them.
To facilitate all this, LCA has offered assistance for Arjen be in Canberra for the Wednesday, as he is unable to attend all of LCA.
BlueHackers has one key objective: to remind you that if you are a geek dealing with depression or a related disorder, you are not alone. Depression is fairly prolific in the geek community, and it is important that we don’t hide the subject away. Talking about it is one of the most positive and helpful things we can do for each other.
Email: l i f e (at) b l u e h a c k e r s (dot) o r g if you have any questions or want to tell us you’re coming along (but you’re most welcome regardless!) – please also help spread the word through any medium, to ensure that everyone knows the event is happening.
At the event, you’re welcome to sit quietly in the back if you prefer. Some people are comfortable talking in public on this, others are not. Your mere presence will already be positive for other attendees, and possibly for you too.
Naturally, if you want to help with this, have ideas, would like to do one of the lightning talks, or anything else related, write to the above email address. Thanks!
Arjen Lentz (BlueHackers) & Lana Brindley (LCA 2013 Team)
Mitch Altman and others spoke at a panel session on Geeks & Depression at 28c3 (the 28th congress of the Chaos Computer Club in Germany) in 2011 after the passing of Ilya Zhitomirskiy (co-founder of the Diaspora project). I think the video (40 minutes) is worth watching, the speakers touch on a lot of important points.
Jacinta wrote this awesome post and allowed me to reprint (most of) it for you as I think this very relevant on BlueHackers. What you read here is people’s own personal experience, and ideas. We know from feedback that this is appreciated and found helpful. But it is very important to remember that what works for one person may not be what another person needs – for whatever reason. So what you pick up here is possible ideas, not “the right way”. Ok, on to Jacinta’s post.
Sometimes people write or talk about their health issues. You get a tiny snapshot into what’s going on, and [...] that’s probably not going to be enough for you to know what they’ve tried, rejected, talked with their doctors about etc.
Here are some articles writing by the amazing S E Smith about cure evangelism.
“You may, in fact, have tried a variety of treatments. Perhaps you tried several different medications for your depression. You tried acupuncture and meditation and herbs. You made some dietary adjustments. You found, ultimately, that some of these things worked for you and some of them did not. You made a conscious choice about which treatments you wanted to continue, and which ones you did not, and you’re managing your depression in a way that works for you, that suits your needs, that allows you to function.
“And then someone feels the need to come along and say ‘oh, you have [condition]? Have you tried…’”
also the original piece: http://meloukhia.net/2010/06/on_cure_evangelism.html
Please don’t cure evangelise. [...] There’s some ideas in the articles on how (and when) you can share your experiences but in general, if you respect the person you’re talking to, respect that they’re already making the best health choices they can.
Ask “do you have this under control?” or “Do you want a recommendation for a <medical professional>?” Not “You should see <doctor>“.
Try saying “If none of that works, let me know, because I have some ideas that might be helpful” rather than “Have you tried X, Y, or Z? No? You should!“.
I have depression.
This isn’t the sort of sadness that sticks around for a week and then goes away. It’s not the sort of thing that even has a good reason, although there might have been one originally. It’s the sort of thing that can stick with you for months or even years, is a recognised illness, and is one of the worst possible states a human can experience.
I know this news will surprise some of you. To many people reading this letter, I’m the guy who’s always happy. I’m the guy who’s always having a good time, and getting out there and doing incredible things. However for the last few months, I haven’t been having a good time.
One of the defining symptoms of major depression is anhedonia— an inability to feel pleasure or enjoyment. You’ve probably experienced this yourself to some degree at various times; everything just seems a little more dull and plain and nothing really seems fun. With major depression, *nothing* can seem enjoyable. It can kill your motivation and your friendships, it can ruin your career, and it can cause you to give up on your megaprojects in Minecraft. It’s the anhedonia that removes one of the defining *good* features of the human condition: the ability to enjoy things.
I have a lot of dear friends who have struggled, and still struggle, with depression. Some of them have been dealing with it their entire lives. I can only say that I have a new appreciation of their situation, and renewed respect for their determination and bravery.
So why am I writing about this publicly? Why am I not I just keeping this to myself and my close friends? Firstly, it’s for my own mental health. I don’t want to hide that I’m depressed; I don’t want to pretend that I’m okay when I’m not. Pretending is *exhausting*, I’ve been doing it for too long, and right now I need all the energy I can get.
But also, I don’t want anyone to have some sort of idea in their head that mental illness only affects certain types of people. I think the more of us who come out with our experiences, the more mental illness will be accepted.
I do want to be clear that I would like to raise the acceptance of mental illness in general. I have friends with bipolar, borderline personality, schizophrenia, anxiety, and a whole slew of other conditions. And you know what? They’re doing amazing things. I’m proud to have them as my friends.
For those of you that wish to know about the nuts and bolts of depression from a neurobiological standpoint, I highly recommend Robert Sapolsky’s lecture presented at Stanford University. Dr Sapolsky puts forward a convincing case that major depression has a strong biological basis, and that telling someone to “get over it” makes about as much sense as telling a diabetic they should get over that silly insulin business.
I also wish to draw attention to two initiatives in particular: Beyond Blue in Australia, who work tirelessly on providing resources and awareness of mental health, and BlueHackers.org, which specifically caters to people working in technology. Special mention also goes to LifeLine who provide crisis support services services, and are always in need of volunteers and support.
Finally, for all of you who have been helping to carry me through this: thank you. I know that I’m not always good at accepting it, but I appreciate your continuing support and patience more than I can say.