Activist Aaron Swartz’s suicide sparks talk about depression
By Laurie Segall @CNNMoneyTechJanuary 14, 2013: 7:41 PM ET
The suicide last week of Aaron Swartz, a prominent Internet developer and activist, is sparking a discussion in Startupland about an issue that’s rarely publicized: the prevalence of depression in the tech community.
Swartz struggled for years with the mental health disorder, and wrote about it occasionally in his blog. “I feel ashamed to have an illness,” he wrote in a 2007 post. “It sounds absurd, but there still is an enormous stigma around being sick.”
Silicon Valley doesn’t generally nurture the sick. Especially for entrepreneurs and those helping to build their startups, the tech industry is a high-risk, high-reward environment, with 20-hour days and millions of dollars at stake.
Ben Huh, CEO of the Cheezburger Web humor empire, wrote publicly about his struggles after his first startup failed.
“I was thoroughly broke, depressed, and feeling the burden of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars of other people’s money,” he wrote in his blog. “I spent a week in my room with the lights off and cut off from the world, thinking of the best way to exit this failure. Death was a good option — and it got better by the day.”
Huh posted his story in the wake of another suicide that shook the industry: The late 2011 death of Ilya Zhitomirskiy, the 22-year-old co-founder of social network Diaspora. Zhitomirskiy battled depression all his life, and the pressure of building a startup that never took off weighed on him, according to those close to him.
The hardest things for those fighting the disease is opening up about it. “Many entrepreneurs don’t feel like they can talk openly about their depression, as they don’t want their investors, employees, or customers to know they are struggling with it,” he says. “For anyone who has been depressed, not being able to be open about it with the people around you makes depression even harder to deal with.”
The moral of the story is not to keep depression to yourself, no matter how powerful or well-known you are. It could kill you. Seek help from doctors, psychotherapists, and the One who created you.