Raising awareness for mental illness in tech

At our company retreat earlier this year Michael Beckwith gave a presentation about taking care of yourself. Of course he talked about eating right and getting some exercise, but he also talked about taking care of yourself mentally. It was a great presentation and I hope he turns it into a WordCamp presentation at some point as it’s something I think we all need to be thinking about.

Over the past couple years, I’ve gone through some pretty big changes professionally. First, I left a business I started after 5+ years of scratching and clawing to make it a success. I then joined a startup that ran out of money and folded a short time later. And most recently, I took a full time position at a WebDevStudios.

Leaving my company and having the startup close down both took a huge toll on me. It wasn’t until I had been working at WDS for a number of months that I realized, for the first time in quite a while, I was truly happy. As I sat through Michael’s presentation, it dawned on me how lucky I am. I had gone through some serious bouts of depression and have come out the other side. I’m lucky to have had an extremely supportive wife and some amazing friends I could call on.

Suffering in Silence

A few years back, Tony Hsieh and the Downtown Project looked to revitalize and reshape downtown Las Vegas. A tech scene was born and I found myself drawn to it. I ended up working closely with the Downtown Project team to build multiple websites for them along with sites for a number of downtown businesses.

During that time, I got my first real taste of what “Startup Life” was like. Not for me, but for others. Yes, I was running a startup of my own, but that’s not really what I’m talking about here. I watched as scores of teams would form, disband, reshape, build, crumble and build again. Raising funds, throwing parties, building apps, building businesses… did I mention throwing parties? While I was just trying to build a small agency, there were teams trying to create empires. It was amazing to watch.

I met some amazing people during that time. I became friends with a good number of them. But as I sat listening to Michael’s talk that day, only one of those people was on my mind; Ovik.

Ovik was incredibly smart. Like, next level smart. I first met him when he was giving a presentation about research he had done related to fresh drinking water. It was an eye-opening experience. I’ve heard other presentations on the need for helping third-world countries gain access to drinking water, but none like Ovik’s. Yes, he had slide after slide to show the research and stats and all the things you would expect from a presentation. But his presentation had something I hadn’t seen in others – passion – a passion for helping others that was so strong, if he said, “Let’s hop on a plane right now and go fix this problem,” you would have been fighting to be first in line.

Tragically, Ovik took his own life.

I co-worked with Ovik downtown on a pretty regular basis. I saw and chatted with him a couple times a week for months. Not a single time did I ever, even for a second, think that he was battling something so dark and sinister under the surface that it would lead him to such a drastic conclusion. Did anybody else? I don’t know. Did he reach out for help? I don’t know that either. Did he even know help was available? I just don’t know.

Raising Awareness

In Michael’s talk, he spoke about Open Source Mental Illness, a group that is “Changing the way we talk about mental health in the tech community.” They have a number of resources, include a few books you can purchase, and a user forum where you can have a discussion about, well, just about anything.

During the month of December, our entire company is having a little competition. We’ve broken up into teams to see which group can raise the most money for a charity. I don’t know what the prize is for winning, nor do I care. I’m just excited that we’ve chosen OSMI as our charity recipient.

I know it’s the holiday season and there are a bajillion things fighting for every dollar in your wallet. But, I humbly ask that you consider donating a few bucks to OSMI. And, if you aren’t in the position to donate directly, perhaps you wouldn’t mind sharing this post with your followers. Either (or both) would be greatly appreciated!

Donate to OSMI

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