Silicon Valley lives and dies by the pitch – defining the value proposition, the upside potential and the reasons to invest capital in a startup.
Inevitably, the discussion always turns to the founder(s) – to their curriculum vitae’s strength, their perseverance, their successes. By this, angels and VCs place a deterministic value on the human capital they represent to the investor and how that variable affects the total valuation.
Look into a founder’s eyes though, as they give the pitch – I mean really look past the surface and into their depths. Look past the smiles, the exuberance and the sales patter – you may just catch a fleeting glimpse of something that is silently destroying them, eating them away from the inside in a slow, deterministic drift towards destruction.
The irony is that virtually all of these suffering people are trying desperately, hopelessly to conceal this. Conceal it from you, from the world and even from themselves – the miasma of depression against which they fight a constant battle. Not to overcome, but simply to resist the overwhelming tide that threatens to wash them away into an uncaring ocean of despair, every moment of every day.
We’ve lost so many people in tech over this last year – publicized and not – to suicide due to depression. I am not here claiming to solve this problem, merely to shine a much-needed light upon what many prefer to ignore. Too many of us are gone – it’s time we offered our understanding to those who need it most.
Facts speak, but analogies truly CONVEY – allow me to share some with you to help put this epidemic (and it is nothing but that) into perspective.
Depression is more common than AIDS, cancer, and diabetes – combined.
Nearly 400,000 people attempt suicide in the U.S. every year – that is 50% of the total population of San Francisco.
In 2013, there were 41,149 deaths by suicide – meaning one in ten who attempt suicide succeed.
Imagine the entire population of San Francisco’s Mission District killing themselves – all at once. That would be 41,149 people (with a few dozen extra to spare) voluntarily ending themselves because they just couldn’t stand another second of life
For a less localized metaphor – imagine every single person in a filled to capacity baseball stadium. Same statistics, same metaphor, same results.
Does that add a level of visceral, tangible immediacy to a statistic – I hope it does.
The tech community is close-knit, virtually familial in its embrace of people from every walk of life, every demographic, every affiliation – yet we continue to turn our faces away in shame at the thought of how depression made our colleague “crazy.”
We conjure images of straightjackets, of soothing platitudes uttered by smiling bespectacled shrinks looking at their watches to see how much time is left in this “session, of screaming madness that shocks and horrifies all around you.
Ƒor the record, the only screaming is typically on the inside.
These antediluvian viewpoints of mental illness belong in the past – there is no shame associated with depression. The only shame is not seeking treatment, not talking to your friends and family, not taking a deep cleansing breath to clear the toxic vapors that corrupt every thought you have with distortion and fear.
This is not something that will just go away – it never goes away. It can be controlled, it can be managed, it can be shouldered and perhaps even lightened by the caring of others so you no longer feel like Atlas carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.
As a PR counselor, I must frequently keep secrets – and like a Father Confessor, those secrets stay with me to the grave. That said, one very well-known person has allowed me to anonymously quote verbatim what they feel battling depression.
“You feel afraid, every moment of the day – you wish everyone would just go away, leave you alone, let you just fade into nothingness. You know your thinking is corrupted, that things really aren’t as bad as they feel – but all you can see is “the end”. The end to the problems, the fear, to feel rocks multiplying in your pockets as you slowly drown in the darkness of your own design. You just want it all to stop – to not leave bed, to have the paralysis go away. To let go.”
To let go.
There are no more poignant and terrifying 3 words than these. Seductive in their simplicity, yet so profound in their awful effect.
So many of our Silicon Valley family have let go, stopped fighting, and given up in this year -– we mourn their collective disappearance from our lives and are diminished by their absence. We feel their loss, perhaps say a few pleasantries about how they will be missed, and then move on.
It’s time to stop moving on
We should be raging against the dying of the light, to quote Dylan Thomas – these were PEOPLE. These were the friends, brothers and sisters of our tech family. These tragedies could have been prevented, and prevent them we must – because depression is endemic in our industry and it’s time we faced that fact as a collective, united group.
I urge us all, everyone reading these words, to make one simple tweet. Tell the world that you care about this illness and that you want those suffering to know you care and hope that your voice has been heard to bring a moment of solace to someone’s life.
Show those suffering that they are not alone, that we do not judge them, that we are here for them. If even one person seeks help, reaches out, cries to the Universe that they will NOT end themselves because of this – then we have all won.
We won’t change the world with this – but we will change minds.
If you’re reading this, and you’re suffering – know that you are not alone… and never have been.
Seek treatment without shame or fear. Talk to someone. Talk to ANYONE.
If you have been positively impacted by this story or someone who has reached out to help you, tweet out with #SteppedIntoTheLight – let the world know, because we care.