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Debian

How To Talk About Mental Illness Online? 308

An anonymous reader writes: Shortly after the death of Debian founder Ian Murdock, Bruce Perens, who succeeded Murdock as Debian Project Leader in 1996 and was also Murdock's employer for a period of time, claimed very publicly that Murdock died of mental illness, although no evidence has been provided. Without referencing Murdock or Perens, another prominent Debian Developer, Daniel Pocock, has asserted that discussion about who has or had a mental illness is a step too far. To be fair, it sure doesn't sound like Perens was trying to do other than express sympathy in light of a tragic death.
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How To Talk About Mental Illness Online?

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  • Secrets =~ Stigmas (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Sunday January 10, 2016 @07:03PM (#51274645) Homepage Journal

    If you want to keep mental illness stigmatized, insist it be kept a secret.

    If I die of cancer, I won't have a problem with anybody talking about that. Same with a heart attack. Same with a mental illness.

    A brain dysfunction can cause the affected quite a bit of suffering, but sympathy doesn't mean lying. There's no moral failing associated with, say, a neurotransmitter imbalance. These aren't attributed to demons in 2016 - we can see them on PET or fMRI. They're just as valid a medical problem as a broken arm, even if the science of treatment is still in its adolescence.

    Now, people who belittle those with mental illness - they should be ostracized. It no better than taunting somebody who gets cancer.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I agree, EXCEPT, there are actually all sorts of other real world problems that step in when mental illness is involved. Specifically Insurance and Job issues in many areas. Discussing someones mental illness openly can still have a lot of unforseen consequences. e.g. life insurance not paying as any death becomes questionable, where I work mental illness would also be an immediate disqualifier for my job.
      • Mental Illness takes faith to understand. It's nothing like a broken bone, or collapsed lung where someone can say "wow, that sucks" by looking at you or an image. Mental illness can't be seen, and really with as much as we know about the mind much is really unknown. Every mental illness effects people differently. Hell, nerve damage in general impacts everyone differently for that matter.

        Not being able to see things makes mental illness a target for abuse. People abusing the trust of people leads to s

        • One day, I was in the supermarket with my oldest son (who's been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and Anxiety Disorder). We saw another father/son pair walk by. The son was missing the lower portion of one of his arms (starting about halfway from the elbow to where the wrist would be). My son couldn't help but notice (thankfully, in a quiet fashion). I told him that everyone has their challenges in life, but some people's challenges are easier to see than other people's. If someone is a quadriplegic,

      • ...where I work mental illness would also be an immediate disqualifier for my job.

        Which is, to me, an argument that such information has to be made available for certain employers.
        "Co-Pilot in Germanwings Crash Hid Mental Illness From Employer"
        http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03... [nytimes.com]

        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          Which is, to me, an argument that such information has to be made available for certain employers.

          They would have to demonstrate that the mental illness in question were relevant. For example, for a job I work, I'm required to be able to lift 50 pounds (20-25 kg). There's no requirement that I not have particular back injuries. If I can do the task with the injury, then I'm good. (Incidentally, if I become unable to meet that particular requirement, they have the option to move me to another job where I don't have to lift 50 pounds or to restructure my current job).

          A blanket proscription against ment

          • This policy doesn't require notification of mental illness that wouldn't affect flying.

            I agree that the need would have to be demonstrated unless already categorized but I think it should be law and not only company policy that defines what jobs require it. There would then be a category list of jobs : conditions where the company does not have to demonstrate anything (i.e. piloting a plane : being suicidal).

            Flying is only one example but there are many where safety of others is an issue.

            Bus driver : heart condition with risk of cardiac arrest maybe:
            https://www.google.fr/search?q... [google.fr]

    • Now, people who belittle those with mental illness - they should be ostracized. It no better than taunting somebody who gets cancer.

      That's fine and all, except in reality people love to shame it anyways. Especially on slashdot. Just read the comments about any summary that has to do with somebody being a psychopath, which is a mental illness. CEO's are frequently psychopaths, and people here love to name and shame them over it.

      The same is also true of pedophiles. I don't think anybody anywhere ever just decides one day "I'd like to be a pedophile."

      • I don't hate people who are born psychopaths or pedophiles. What I do hate, however, are people who act out on their psychopathy or pedophilia with no concern about the damage it causes other people. That's the point where my sympathy for them dies.

        • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

          Here lies the problem the though. We have been conditioned and taught now for decades that people are disabled they are differently-abled.

          "That person in the wheel chair isn't broken, the chair is part of their identity" that is how the social just warriors have insisted with think on it. So the trouble with your statement ultimately comes down to the fact that psychopath or pedophile isn't 'acting' they are just being themselves.

          An unfeeling person (possibly a psychopath) could argue almost any protecte

      • Just read the comments about any summary that has to do with somebody being a psychopath, which is a mental illness. CEO's are frequently psychopaths, and people here love to name and shame them over it.

        The problem is, our system is deficient in that it allows economic power to be wielded with little or any oversight, CEOs wield a lot of such power, and psychopathy's defining symptom is not caring about the consequences of your actions to other people. This means a psychopathic CEO is a danger to everyone,

    • The medical treatment is still in its infancy, it hasn't even begun to mature.

      What's worse is the medical community clings to their barbaric methods like it's actual medicine, instead of the snake oil piss it actually is.

    • I you live in an environment unlike where the water apes evolved, or eat a diet unlike what the land lubber water apes became accustomed to, you are probably going to experience mental illness, without any genetic or otherwise predisposition.

      Being a psychopath or pedo does have ramifications for society, unlike anxiety or depression, unless the patient is aware and actively avoiding trigger situations. A great way to avoid is to tell people they have this problem, and there are of course cognitive exercises

    • Hi Bill,

      Ian was someone we should mourn, and we should not be discussing his problems due to this Daniel person. We can't help Ian now, although we can help other people who have his problems.

      I was not Ian's employer. I was, however, the chairman of the board of Progeny Linux Systems for a while, and my company arranged the initial $5 Million capitalization of Progeny. I had no real control of the company, the investors were the Simon group, known for their shopping malls.

      I will give you one sad fact about

    • I may be old fashioned, but I do not think any of my personal matters are a topic to discuss with random strangers on the net.

      If they are not strangers though, then there is no need to make a special case just because the communication is online. Just make sure it is a private channel.

  • by ffkom ( 3519199 ) on Sunday January 10, 2016 @07:05PM (#51274667)
    ... it was aired long before this suicide, but provides lots of insight on why the situation is as it is: Episode on Youtube [youtube.com].
  • by leftover ( 210560 ) on Sunday January 10, 2016 @07:06PM (#51274673) Homepage

    The first step requires a significant cultural change, which is always difficult. We collectively need to stop considering mental illness as a failure of character, a visitation by some imaginary deity/demon, or any of the other cruelly fallacious delusions out there. Truth is, the mind is extremely complex, very poorly understood, and probably never quite 'right' in the sense we would want it to be. In other words, we are all nucking futs and we had better learn to be more kind to each other.

    After that first step, we most definitely should start talking, openly and kindly, about mental health online and in-person and in all social constructs.

    • To make it even more difficult, what is considered mental illness can depend on society's values. Crazy in one part of the world may or may not be crazy in another.

      We need to be caring and non-judgmental in as far as possible. How many truly disturbed people want to be that way? Or even realize it? Yes, society needs to protect itself from those who may be dangerous (and we'd better be careful where we draw that line; mental hospitals are used to incarcerate dissidents in some places) but passing judgment c

    • When you say "We collectively need to stop considering mental illness as a failure of character" you are certainly right, but it is a big problem that diagnostics of mental illness are far from being reproducable, objective, reliable, and evidence based.

      Nobody doubts that there is such a thing as "mental illness", but there is a wide spectrum from "people whose behaviour is just outside the 90% percentile perceived 'normal'" to the clinically insane that pose an immediate threat to themselves and their surr

      • Strongly agree! Being of the engineering persuasion, my first instinct is to measure ... something. Look into it even a little bit and you see there isn't even agreement on symptoms vs causes. The complexity is far beyond what most people are motivated to understand. Reducing it to sound-bite level summarization just adds to confusion.

        You touched on a sadly telling point: right now our track record for detection and action to intervene before suicide or killing spree is abysmally poor.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      The first step requires a significant cultural change, which is always difficult. We collectively need to stop considering mental illness as a failure of character, a visitation by some imaginary deity/demon, or any of the other cruelly fallacious delusions out there. Truth is, the mind is extremely complex, very poorly understood, and probably never quite 'right' in the sense we would want it to be. In other words, we are all nucking futs and we had better learn to be more kind to each other. After that first step, we most definitely should start talking, openly and kindly, about mental health online and in-person and in all social constructs.

      That's not the issue, I don't think many believe mental illness has such an extraordinary explanation. The problem is that we don't know the true scope of your mental problems, if you tell me you're depressed is it like "got the blues" depressed or "dangling from a rope" depressed? Is your memory just a little fuzzy or will you leave the food burning on the stove so the house burns down? Are you just a tad neurotic or are you going to go full blown psychosis with hallucinations and voices in your head telli

    • by Elledan ( 582730 )
      It's not just mental health which needs to become a topic less shunned in today's society, but many others as well. I have been diagnosed over the past years with PTSD, as well as DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder), both of which are a consequence of my intersex condition.

      Or more specifically: the traumatic events resulting from the abhorrent treatment of my intersex condition by doctors and psychologists, who insisted I had to be transsexual instead, attempted to force me into 'normalisation' surgeries
    • I think, just like other subjects that were once taboo, like homosexuality or drug experiences, people will not surprisingly imagine all kinds of stupid things, because they have no actual experience of it and feel powerless against it. It doesn't help, when idiots in the entertainment industry exploit these false notions to create 'demons' for their storyline. The only way I can think of to combat this, is increased insight - for example through television.

      People with mental illnesses are not "crazy" - at

      • I think, just like other subjects that were once taboo, like homosexuality or drug experiences, people will not surprisingly imagine all kinds of stupid things, because they have no actual experience of it and feel powerless against it.

        True. I'd only add that they imagine it in either extreme. Either they think "You have depression? Does that mean you're going to walk in one day and shoot everyone up because you've given up on life? I've heard people with depression do that." Or else they think "You hav

  • by Improv ( 2467 ) <pgunn01@gmail.com> on Sunday January 10, 2016 @07:07PM (#51274681) Homepage Journal

    We should always reject and ignore demands/requests for consideration or special treatment of some topics in discussions that take in the general public. Maybe in the workplace it'd be good to avoid some topics, likewise at some special events, but otherwise talk and joke about whatever you want, and if someone must be ostracised it should be those trying to fence topics off rather than those who ignore the fences.

  • by gavron ( 1300111 ) on Sunday January 10, 2016 @07:13PM (#51274723)

    It's a very big part of the American culture thing to need to fix everyone else.
    This can be a very good thing, and I respect Bruce Perens for "daring" to "go there."

    Donald Trump, in his own bombastic style also likes to point out broken things, but
    he's less interested in fixing them and more interested in pointing out how he's not
    broken. [ob mental illness the Donald is clearly a case of NPD waiting for diagnosis].

    Bruce did the right thing because he brought a discussion to the forefront... and sure
    enough here we are on Slashdot talking about it.

    - Should a mental illness be treated any differently than Lamar Odom's condition... or
    Patrick Swayze... or Steve Jobs... or... anyone who has a physical ailment? I don't
    think so. They are all people and whether they suffer from a diseased liver, a drug
    overdose, or a mental demon, they deserve our [something- is it attention, respect,
    space, support, leave-them-alone-ingness, or even just a nod of the head saying
    you're not going through this alone].

    - Should we NOT discuss it, are we not then perpetuating the de-facto stigma that
    mental illness is so bad we can't even talk about it... let alone offer help... or just
    say we're there for that person.

    I did not know the man himself but I respect greatly the contributions he made to my
    daily life. (I use Mint Linux and Ubuntu, both of which are Debian variants).

    My thought - there are lots of mentally diseased people running for office right now,
    but Ian is no longer here.

    May his soul rest in piece... and may a dialogue help others in similar situations.
    Thanks, Bruce Perens.

    Ehud Gavron
    Tucson AZ

    • Wonderfully said! Thank you.

    • - Should we NOT discuss it, are we not then perpetuating the de-facto stigma that mental illness is so bad we can't even talk about it... let alone offer help... or just say we're there for that person.

      I'd say yes. But with a huge but.

      We have to realize that people with mental illness that are willing to talk about it, are going to undergo the same reaction as the people who are whistleblowers. Unless you are completely independent, you are going to fuck your life up but good. Denying that isn't possible. I would grant there are probably some exceptions, some fellow was noting something Bell Canada had. Sounds good, but I would no more visit the site than some place called "Trixie's preteen playground"

    • I think that if someone brings up "I have a mental illness" that it should be treated like someone broke their leg. You don't have to dance on egg shells to talk about a foot race -- but don't expect the person with the broken leg to keep up. And insulting such a thing, well, then you should be considered an ass, or someone with Asperger or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. That doesn't mean people can't talk about empathy, just that they shouldn't expect you to have any. Maybe everything we find annoying

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        Maybe I just hang out with assholes but, to be honest, if you showed up at a footrace with my group of friends then we'd probably call you names like Hop-a-long, gimp, and hide your crutches. Oh, we'd slow down and even carry you to the finish line if you couldn't make it yourself but you're gonna catch a whole ration of ribbing in the process. We won't let you lose all alone but, yeah... We're gonna call you funny names as we carry your crippled ass across the finish line - probably "dumb ass" 'cause you d

      • And insulting such a thing, well, then you should be considered an ass, or someone with Asperger or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. That doesn't mean people can't talk about empathy, just that they shouldn't expect you to have any.

        It's a common misconception that people with Asperger's Syndrome have no empathy. We do, but it can be hard for us to a) recognize when someone is feeling something (we often miss visual clues that are obvious to neurotypicals) and b) express said empathy. In fact, people wit

  • We don't often laud large corporations but Bell Canada has a wonderful campaign to get the conversation started.

    There are so many people dealing with mental illness that it's ridiculous not to deal with it.

    The worst thing you can do is to NOT get treatment or help. [letstalk.bell.ca]

    • The worst thing you can do is to NOT get treatment or help.

      As opposed to losing your job, undergoing life changing alterations in how you are treated by others? Forced onto medicine and end up living under a bridge?

      Hell, with perks like that, you'd expect people to fake mental illness.

  • Bruce doesn't know he died of a mental illness. They weren't close, they weren't even friends. He doesn't know if he was mentally ill. I suspect he was, but who knows. Maybe he was taking some crazy drug. Maybe that was his true personality. The problem with mental illness is that the line isn't straight. If you have cancer, you have cancer. It isn't as clear as mental illness. I have people I thought were mentally ill, but what do I know about what is "normal"? Hell, I might be crazy. After all, I visit th
    • You've kind of hit the nail on the head with the main problem. You almost never hear if someone died from mental illness. You would hear if he died in a car crash, from cancer or some other condition. But not mental illness. Because it has a huge stigma. And that is a problem.

      The thing is should nothing be done? You never hear about it so there's not much point in waiting until you do hear about it.

  • Partly because so little is known about the brain/mind. With something like a heart attack or a murder, there's a fairly clear sequence of cause-effect relationships that start with an known and end with a known. With mental illness, the genetics are obscure and too complex to fathom out by any conventional methods. Genetics aren't, however, the only contributing factor. Epigenetics, chemical signals, environment (including stimuli) right the way through life, it's a nightmare.

    There are already 1,100 genes - not SNPs, genes - linked to the brain and 23&Me typically links about 50 SNPs of interest to each gene. That's 55,000 possible mutations, which gives you 2^55000 (10^16500) different combinations. In comparison, there are only 7x10^9 people alive on the planet (which means you can't get good resolution data on how variables interact, even if you studied everyone alive today) and about 10^100 atoms in the universe (which means that you'd nowhere to store sufficient data even if you could obtain it). That's just the genetic contribution, nothing else. What the everything else is, and how it relates, is only known in vague details. That's why news stories on yet another breakthrough are commonplace.

    To make things worse, culture hasn't yet caught up to the idea there even is a theory of mind. It's still in some sort of Die Hard - Neolithic stage. Medicine isn't much better, the DSM manual has absolutely bugger all to do with what conditions and illnesses exist, it's about what tag the insurance should be billed under. The American psychiatric association is too busy digging its way out of the threat of criminal charges over direct assistance and fraudulent financial dealings to worry about anyone who is actually sick. The NHS can't afford anything more complex than a door-stop, right now, so don't expect Britain to haul anyone out of this mess. (Britain actually has a fairly good reputation on theoretical and practical psychiatric and neurological treatments, or at least it used to. Now, it's about on equal footing to Zimbabwe.) Australia has a Centre of the Mind, but it looks like it's a long way from getting anywhere - if it does at all. Some of its research seems iffy.

    So there's no useful categorization, no meaningful theory, no known mechanics, superficial treatments for only certain diagnoses with rather suspect evidence to back them, no systematic approach towards system analysis, triage or debugging. Not even a definition of what a bug is.

    The information in this post plus the fact that I've been here a long time aught to allow anyone here to identify (in very superficial terms) one out of the eight diagnoses I endure. Won't help you, won't help me. Those diagnoses aren't useful if you do want to help anyone, because each is subject to an overlapping combinatorial explosion. No, if you want to be helpful, there are citizen science projects for exploring the brain that will benefit the experts and there are probably insights the deep enthusiasts can contribute somehow by exploring databases and literature from perspectives that aren't obvious to researchers.

    When it comes to interacting - understand, respect and listen. Oh, and don't fetishize any principle other than first doing no harm. Every other ethic, philosophy or cultural belief should be expendable if it contradicts that. Consider it a mandatory access control.

    • Another issue is that we are not that long into how to deal with mental illness.
      We got drugs, but no good tool for diagnostic.
      We got diagnostic, but they are still not at the stage where they could be used on routine checks.
      We got generic drugs, with side effects, which may not be intended for the actual problem.

      Then there is enviroment. Its understood that there is some cause and effect, but rather poorly. Especially incubation.

  • Welcome to Slashdot! You came to the right place for that.
  • Do NOT! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Sunday January 10, 2016 @10:47PM (#51275587)
    There was a person in here who posted how he had gone to a few alcoholism websites to do some research, and how he was then hounded by "well meaning" people trying to get him to help fix his "problem".

    To me, the only surprising thing is that they would take the trouble to find out from something like alcoholism. I think tracing people out like that should be reserved for crimes, bit 'taint necessarily so.

    I said it then, I'll say it again. Before I retired, I would never ever ever have gone to a website about alcoholism, mental illness, or suicide.

    If I had, and after they traced me out, my job would have given me a choice of being fired, or seeking treatment. Even with treatment, my job would have forever changed.

    What is worse, although my alcohol is limited to less than 1 adult beverage per month, I would at that point be required to pretend actually having a drinking problem, or else I would be branded as resisting treatment. Gar, sounds like a basis for a novel.

    People need to quit treating the web as a private place. It isn't. Get help if you need it, but go through channels that will give you a bit of privacy.

    • Now I'm curious: how did those "well meaning" people find out? Or did he actually browse these sites from his work computer, rather than from home?
      • Assuming he was using the web in the normal manner, it isn't that hard. IP address to ISP to name to email.

        Its usually a law enforcement thing for people to bother, but never underestimate do-gooders ability to turn something simple like surfing some pages into a life and death situation.

        A good experiment for someone would be to post some messages on some suicide sites and see what happens. Wait, don't do that. In today's climate, the results might look a lot like being swatted. That's a - I say that's

        • Assuming he was using the web in the normal manner, it isn't that hard. IP address to ISP to name to email.

          I know, but for that you would need:

          • Access to the web server's (or a proxy's) log to get the IP
          • Access to the victim's ISP server's log to go from the IP to a name

          This is indeed a trivial exercise for the NSA, but usually far beyond the reach of a random "do-gooder".

          Its usually a law enforcement thing for people to bother, but never underestimate do-gooders ability to turn something simple like surfing some pages into a life and death situation.

          I know. Especially if it's do-gooders within law enforcement. But it's rather unlikely that they would troll visitors of alcoholism websites. Unless they were targeting your friend specifically already for other reasons...

          A good experiment for someone would be to post some messages on some suicide sites and see what happens.

          But in your case,

    • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

      I said it then, I'll say it again. Before I retired, I would never ever ever have gone to a website about alcoholism, mental illness, or suicide.

      If I had, and after they traced me out, my job would have given me a choice of being fired, or seeking treatment. Even with treatment, my job would have forever changed.

      Either you worked at a very tiny business, or your company already has multiple employees dealing with alcoholism and mental illness (including depression, which is what usually leads to suicide when untreated). If its a halfway professional company, your HR folks should have options for treatment they routinely provide employees for these things as part of their medical coverage.

      You may not know about it, because these aren't the kinds of things your coworkers bring up about themselves at the water cooler

      • I know when my kids started having trouble with depression, one of the things that shocked me was how well set up my company's medical(/mental health) insurance was for dealing with this kind of thing.

        Have your children tried getting a job that required a security clearance?

        • by chihowa ( 366380 )

          Having depression that is being treated won't interfere with getting a security clearance. Having obvious symptoms of depression and refusing treatment or having a history of erratic behavior linked to untreated depression would interfere, though. Seeking counseling or medication for psychiatric conditions hasn't been a cause to refuse clearance sine ~1995, per Executive Order 12968. Officially, anyway, it can't be the reason for being denied clearance.

  • Bruce's statement is factual (or if not, it certainly APPEARS factual), and is meant to be kind. Stop manufacturing offense.

  • by Spazmania ( 174582 ) on Monday January 11, 2016 @12:08AM (#51275873) Homepage

    When someone dies, it's simple respect to his friends and admirers to report the cause and circumstance of his death. From the reports of Murdock's death, it was indisputable that something went very, very wrong in his brain.

    Calling someone rude for saying so, presupposes that one is revealing a shameful situation. Not only is that ludicrous, it disrespects the dead. Dude got sick and died. Shouldn't we talk about how to help the next person who gets sick avoid dying?

  • ...Perens is a giant dick.
    • Are you going to provide any examples, or are you just going to make unsupported statements? I've clashed with Bruce publicly in the past and I don't recall him ever being "a giant dick". Self-serving maybe, but that's the opposite of unusual.

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