Finally got around to reading this article, thanks to Foster’s folllow up today. It’s good.
As a lifelong depression sufferer who ran a business, I can say the pressures were intense, and there were times I thought I would die. The day I had an employee whose child was born with its organs outside their rib cage was a rough one. Laying off people was always something that would send me into a tail spin for days. Same with having to fire someone I had greatly hoped would work out. Foster’s not wrong. The situation can be insane. The pressures are enormous. I’ve known Harry a long time, and his comments in the follow up are very him. It’s been amazing watching him grow and change as the pressures of helping found Foursquare have grown.
But at the same time, Harry’s sort of right. I see the issue in a slightly different way. I’ve suffered from lifelong depression. Running a business didn’t make it worse.
I watched Melancholia last night. Lars Von Trier wrote the film while he was depressed, and he has said he wrote the film from an insight that depressed people are often more calm in tense situations. Depressed people expect things to go wrong. I always expected things to go wrong. I am shocked when they don’t. I am constantly second-guessing myself, looking at problems from every angle. I have to FORCE myself to believe that things will work out okay. Optimism is forced. I would say that in many cases my depression helped me in my career.
There’s a distinction between routine, recurring depression and suicidal urges that occur due to current, immediate pressures. Depression stays through thick and thin. Suicidal urges are situation based.
I strongly encourage everyone to read this 2003 New Yorker article on suicide on the Golden Gate bridge. But here is a relevant passage:
Dr. Seiden’s study, “Where Are They Now?,” published in 1978, followed up on five hundred and fifteen people who were prevented from attempting suicide at the bridge between 1937 and 1971. After, on average, more than twenty-six years, ninety-four per cent of the would-be suicides were either still alive or had died of natural causes. “The findings confirm previous observations that suicidal behavior is crisis-oriented and acute in nature,” Seiden concluded; if you can get a suicidal person through his crisis—Seiden put the high-risk period at ninety days—chances are extremely good that he won’t kill himself later”
I think another under-discussed area is that I believe startup culture can actually attract sufferers of clinical depression. Depression is fightable, and in fighting it you are saying yes to optimism, that the world can be a better place. You want to actively help make the world a better place. And startupland is a very attractive place to someone who wants to change the world.
We can work towards lessening the crucible of startupland. As I got older I realized I didn’t need to work 80 hours, and I realized that I didn’t need to succumb to every pressure around me. Talking about the issue more will help in these situations. And we should all work towards seeing and identifying the signs of someone at risk for depression. Because they can be intervened. They can be stopped, and if you stop them, they may well survive.
But I also wonder if startupland just attracts more depressed people in general. And that, I just don’t know if it’s good or bad. As a depressed person, I, for one, am thankful there’s an industry where I can work towards improving things.