This article was delivered as a talk at Thap Thursday, Clicksco UK. It has been slightly edited.
I’ve battled with myself as to whether I should write about this subject… It’s a challenge to openly communicate about a topic which is fairly stigmatised and generally not discussed.
If you follow plenty of people on twitter, mental health in tech has been brought up in recent months.
It’s something which we as an industry are only now beginning to discuss more openly than ever before.
It has many names, mental illness, mental health, depression, anxiety or just plain ‘issues’.
It is something that 1 in 4 people will experience in many shapes and forms during the course of a year.
That means that a significant amount of people reading this now will face a mental health challenge over the next twelve months.
For as long as I can remember I’ve had an interest in psychology and the human brain. Things like…
- Why we do what we do
- What affects mood, both positively and negatively
- What impacts or affects motivation
- Self Confidence & Self Belief
- Beating Depression – Non-medicated and medicated
I’ve no formal qualifications in psychology, instead I read insights, listen to people and monitor human behaviour.
We as an industry are an interesting one, to an outsider it seems like we have amazing jobs with no stresses or challenges. To them “We work on computers all day”.
On the inside we know it’s very different, I know as a designer I face daily, if not hourly, challenges of feeling like I’m on top of the world to wanting to jump out of the window.
And it’s clear from the research that I’ve done, that developers feel the exact same way.
The challenge we face is that the peaks and troughs of our mood are directly relatable to the work which we’re doing at the time and they’re very hard to regulate into a smooth wavey line.
By the way, it should never be a smooth flat line or flat and spike continuously, everyone is afforded room to be sad or moody.
We have our good days and we have our bad days.
Different Kinds of People
Different people deal with different things in different ways.
Extroverted people appear happy, outgoing and loud. Introverted people are more quiet, less communicative and because of that can seem moody.
An extroverted mood line looks a bit like this –
Their mood peaks quite high for a sustained amount of time but their drops are deep either sharp drops or prolonged if they can’t be brought round quick enough or they bounce from high to low quite quickly depending on the person.
An introverted mood line looks a bit like this –
Lower highs and even lower sustained drops. Introverts show less happiness even if they’re over the moon about something. They get very happy about specific things they enjoy, but those things can also cause their drops.
Anxiety and depression are the most common in Britain, with almost 9% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis. Many many people fail to get diagnosed, they don’t want to talk to anyone about it, they don’t feel they have anything wrong or much worse they go vastly downhill and it’s hard to pull them round again.
Signs that someone is suffering…
- Mood swings – Both positive and negative. If you notice someone going through a hugely positive mood swing and then crashing to a massive low repeatedly is a sign. If you see someone crash very low and it’s a sustain low it’s a sign
- Lack of Motivation – If someone looks like they’ve lost motivation – not just motivation with their work but in life. If they start wanting to sleep longer than is normal i.e. they can’t be bothered to get out of bed on a morning or all they do is sleep through the day is a sign
- Intense Introverted Behaviour – If someone just wants to be left alone, is spending more time by themselves and becomes moody around other people this is a sign
- Snapping Mood Swings at Random – If you notice someone having snap mood swings over something which is trivial – this is a sign
What you can do
If someone is suffering, absolutely anything can make a day worse and unless they begin to try and control it, it will continue.
Mental Health, Illness, Depression, Anxiety, anything to do with the human brain isn’t straight forward.
‘Fixing’ these things isn’t easy, if you can use the word ‘fix’. I think it’s more about ‘controlling’.
Some who suffer mental health challenges control it medicinally which can have their own complications – the chemicals in the medicine are playing with the chemicals in your body and they’re quite renowned for side-effects until you get the right one for you.
Alternatively you can try self-controlling things. This can be done individually by someone or seek help from a counsellor / psychiatrist / psychologist.
Often if you’re diagnosed by a doctor, you’ll be seeing a counsellor and they’ll prescribe you medication.
The WORST outcome for a sufferer is self-harm and suicide. Self-harm, again, can be controlled. I found a couple of ‘ticks’ to work. Counting and a rubber band around your wrist, when you recognise something coming in you can either start counting to break the thought process or ping the rubber band for the same result.
Suicide and suicidal thoughts are far far harder to control but they can be controlled and in time they may pass. Sometimes you can learn to control and continuing controlling your feelings for the rest of your life. Clinical depression on the other is a much bigger and harder thing to overcome.
A little bit of advice
Now I’ve got those bits out of the way…
Mental Illness, Mental Health, Anxiety and Depression are sometimes stigmatised. They’re real, we are only human.
Some of us suffer more than others and we can help by understanding and recognising traits.
If you notice someone suffering and aren’t sure how to deal with it, ask someone else. Most people not suffering shut down and stop communicating with a sufferer which can sometimes be the worst thing to happen even if the sufferer is finding it difficult to communicate back.
Non-sufferers, don’t shy away but do seek assistance if you need to.
Sufferers try recognising your traits and make a plan to control it. Recognise when things are getting worse and seek more direct help.
And remember, our industry doesn’t make us immune to feelings.
We are only human.