Ignite Boulder — End Suicide Stigma

Ignite Boulder — End Suicide Stigma

I gave a talk at Ignite Boulder 26 — The subject of my talk was the stigma of suicide and of mental health  — This was my first time speaking  in front of 1400 people, much less about suicide.  Here is a video of the talk:

I’ve attached a transcript of my talk below:


In 2010, I met my family met me for lunch in Manhattan.

4 of them visited but actually only *3* of them were present.

My little brother has an addiction to computer games; he spent the entire lunch on my moms iPhone.

This actually meant that he was pretty good at computer games. As someone who’s seen a zergling rush or two in my day, I can respect that.

This is the board of the 2011 Delaware State Chess Championships, right when my brother, the white player won. He wont 2 years in a row.

My brother is a master of the finite state of a computers memory.

But, back in the real world things were not going so well. His computer addiction developed into a *14* hour a day habit.

His grades droped. He gained weight. He became more isolated.

It all came to a head when he flunked out of school.

My parents made him go try find a job. He went out, but we learned that he didn’t go to find a job.

Instead, he parked the car, climbed in the back seat, and shot himself in the temple.


When I got home, My brothers suicide was the elephant in every room. The topic of every conversation, the arc of every story. It was the noise that filled all of the white space in the room.

If my 5 minute presentation makes you uncomfortable, try being a suicide survivor for the rest of your life.

Each member of my family had their own way of coping. I’m a data scientist, I delved into statistics and psycology.

My brother was not alone. Self-harm is now the leading cause of death in the developing world for people 15 to 49.

Unfortunately, it’s one of the most sparesly funded ones.

Every year, suicide takes the lives of 40 thousand americans, 800 thousand people globally.

If you do the math, thats a suicide every ten minutes in Amurrica!.

There’s even more suicide *attempts*. Americans attempt suicide 1 million times annually. That’s a suicide attempt almost every minute of every day.

Accorrding to statistics, Men are 4x more at risk than women.

Poor men are more at risk than rich men.

Caucasions are at twice the risk of Hispanics / blacks.

Among gay + lesbian younth, suicide risk correlates with perception of rejection from their family.

How did we get to a place where so many people suffer from depression and anxiety? So much so that they’d take their own lives?
There’s a theory of suicide that defines three conditions that create a psycology that will attempt self-harm.

The desire to die begins with a feeling of thwarted belonging.

The second condition “burdonsomeness” is when people see themselves as a liability to those around them.

The third condition is a the ability to die. A fearlessness of pain, the kind of warped courage to take ones own life.

We couldn’t reach David b/c he had developed a propensity towards isolationism, which reinforced his escapism in a cliche but vicious cycle.

David’s vice was computer gaming, but we’ve all heard of other tools for escapism: Alcohol, Drugs, gambling.

Now that i understand the psychology and statistics of suicide, what can I impart to you all tonight?

Statistically only 1 in 5 of you will ever be suicide survivors, but dont we all know someone with isolating behaviours? or mental illness?

Should we have a conversation about avoiding emotional pain by imagining ourselves as someone who doesn’t have to constraints that we do?

[o]With enough repitition, how damaging can that be?

Or should we have a talk about evolution?
How nature optimizes for Survival of a species, not for our happiness.

[0]How different is the environment in which our minds evolved?

Or is it a talk about the circumstances of existence?

If inescapable physical or mental pain is the first dart of existence, what are we to make of the second darts that we throw at ourselves?

[0]Are second darts of unnecessary anxiety, self-doubt or self-criticism more damaging?

Is this a talk about my brother? A good person who for all of his talents — He was a master at chess, was still learning to live in the digital world, and couldn’t master the nuances of modern social life.

[0]How do we teach analytic people to cope in our connected world?

Or is it about the pathology that modern society creates?

We all walk around in our head with our own representation of an increasingly digital world, colored by our good or bad habits, perceptions of abstract concepts like love or lack of love.

Or should we build an affirmation of life? About being a person who is mad to live and mad to talk, desirious of everything at the same time? The kind of person who would never yawn or say a commonplace thing and burn burn burn like candles exploding across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop?

I know what my takeaway is.

Stigma in mental illness has a long past, it used to be that a diagnosis of mental illness meant being locked up for life.

Thats too bad, because perception of loneliness is a risk factor for suicide.

So hear me Ignite Boulder: I will not live in fear of what other people think of my brother or my family, I will stand with comipassion with people who need help.

My ask for you: Reexamine your relationship with your own stigmas and perceptions of mentally ill people (we’ve all got them)

Rexamine the relationships w. isolated people in your lives. It could mean everything to them.


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