Like everyone else, I am heartbroken by the loss of Aaron Swartz, 26, who hung himself last week. He was by all accounts an amazing person. He used his brilliance in technology to advance the cause of a free internet. He was a passionate activist whose antics led to serious charges that could have ended in decades of jail time. Naturally, there is cause to question and condemn the over-zealous prosecutor who seemed intent on punishing Aaron in the worst way possible. Living under this threat and its attendant stress must have been difficult.
But nobody in Aaron’s world seems to want to talk about depression. Maybe they feel that being driven to suicide by the dark forces of the corporate-government complex is more noble than a loss in the struggle with clinical depression. In forums and editorials about Aaron’s death, those who bring up Aaron’s admitted depression are scolded with “Now is not the time!”
But now is the time. Now is always the time. If you don’t understand depression, here is a good place to start. If you want statistics on college suicide, go here. Read about the stigma of depression in the tech world here. Read Aaron’s blog post about his depression here. You already know that more US soldiers now die from suicide than in combat.
Suicide is preventable. Not in every case, obviously. But awareness and education and the dedication of friends and loved ones can and does make a difference. This website, suicideispreventable.org, is the first step in learning how you can help and what words to use with a friend who might be thinking of ending his life.
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/Someone is another good resource. Feeling hopeless and seeing no end in sight can make death seem like the only option. Empathy and affection can persuade the depressed person that things can change.
I wish I could have comforted Aaron Swartz until he felt strong enough to go on. I wish I had stayed up with Max and held his hand until the beginning of a new day. We can’t go back in time but we can try our best to break someone’s fall if we are mindful and courageous enough to make the effort.