Developers and Depression – Killing our Knowledge Workers

This presentation, by Greg Baugues:

“I am a developer, and I have Type II BiPolar and ADHD. It’s not something we talk about, but BiPolar, depression, and ADHD runs rampant in the developer community – they tend to correlate with higher intelligence. Many of the symptoms of this conditions make for great developers, but also cause incredible damage. We recently lost one of our co-workers because of untreated mental illness. I want to share my story – and let people know that it’s okay to talk about these things, that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and how to get help, and how to help those around them.” – Greg Baugues

If you have 20 minutes, it’s worth listening to. As a developer I fully understand this. I remember the brilliance of some of my peers… and before my studies in the social sciences, I do remember once or twice wondering whether they were brilliant not just because they were awesome, but in addition, they might have a mental condition…

It does make you wonder… or at least it makes me wonder even more… whether our (often) terrible environment of busy-work and the insanity of hustle bustle at work heightens the mental condition… in other words, makes it worse.

Are we killing our brightest knowledge workers?

6 Replies to “Developers and Depression – Killing our Knowledge Workers”

  1. Thought provoking post. Thanks.

    I concur with the need about talking about it. As I see it, rather “insanity of hustle bustle at work” is the cause for mental problems not vice-versa. It’s when managements still underestimate what developing software is about. It’s when developers have to materialize hot air in something that makes sense. It’s when criticism is screwed down because of business hierarchies.
    Often enough you’re treated as a code monkey that does some obscure IT magic. But as a programmer it’s hard to fake understanding, your application simply won’t work. You can’t really code something that doesnt make sense. That hurts the brain of intelligent people. This underestimation of what a good programmer really does produces stress and frustration. That’s gonna hurt your health in the long term.
    Also, i’ve worked with fantastic managers and requirement engineers, it’s not universal. So, if you got a mental condition you might be working for the wrong company. It might be the case our knowledge worker are not treated with the respect they deserve.
    In my opinion, “mental conditions” often enough are just our human nature, nothing to worry about. Of course there are severe mental disorders and you gotta treat them right. But you are not going to keep your knowledge workers sane if you compensate disregard with psychopharmaka.

    1. I don’t mean to be rude, Mr. Selfway, but to be very frank and for the sake of anyone else passing by, I think you’ve made good points that apply to software development, but that applying them to mental illness is both incorrect and destructive. It sounds like a good indicator for Mr. Baugues was problems that persisted across jobs, workplaces, living situations and careers—both good and bad. When the only common factor in everything that you do is that it turns into a supreme struggle against yourself, when you’ve moved into new and better situations without all the “hustle bustle” and the problems are identical, and when the best you can do is to distract yourself with new situations or external factors or by turning in on yourself and your work, then it may be an appropriate time to start considering the possibility that it’s not simply work that’s creating the problems—or even if in some broader sense it is, that writing them off as hierarchical societal whatnot cramping your style is no longer going to be a useful remedy.

      In short, if dealing with unrealistic expectations at your job has put you into a depressed state, then you should probably talk to your superiors (they might not realize it) or find a different job or try out any number of other solutions. If parts of Mr. Baugues’ talk made you very uncomfortable and you kinda knew he was talking about what’s going on with you, then you should think about following some of his suggestions, as difficult as they may be.

      That’s what I’m going to do.

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