How Silicon Valley is dealing with mental illness by Laurie Segall @LaurieSegallCNN

It was a less than a year ago that Adrienne Heinz lost her brother, Austen, who committed suicide after a lifelong battle with depression.
Austen was a science geek and a risk-taker. He enjoyed hiking under the Redwoods and playing with his newborn nephew. He wore flip flops to investor meetings, and embodied the extremes associated with entrepreneurship. He was on the brink of great success and grappling with the rocky road that it took to get there.

Austen had turned his radical idea, a scientific approach to laser-print DNA, into a company, Cambrian Genomics. It had all the makings of a Silicon Valley success story: a disruptive idea, a charismatic founder, a roster of impressive investors. And the media had begun to pick up on it — his outspoken and sometimes brash nature garnered both good and bad press.
Long before he became an entrepreneur, Austen battled depression. And on May 24, 2015, he ended his life. He was 31 years old.
Those closest to Austen say his struggle with mental illness was magnified by the pressures of running a startup — pressure he kept to himself.
“He already had those mental health issues and the stress and the challenges of entrepreneurship were just too much,” friend and mentor Mike Alfred recalled. “He was fine as long as things were generally going well, but as soon as he experienced too much negativity … It was like they overflowed and he would go into this spiral.”
“This ability to live with uncertainty, to take risks, it pushed him further than he should have gone before he asked for help,” his sister Adrienne said.
Related: Coder who committed suicide: Tech was ‘bright spot in her life’
Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Freeman studies the relationship between entrepreneurship and depression.
He says many of the personality traits found in entrepreneurs — creativity, extroversion, open mindedness and a propensity for risk — are also traits associated with ADHD, bipolar spectrum conditions depression, and substance abuse.
In a study Freeman conducted, nearly half of the entrepreneurs said they experienced mental health issues at some point in their lives.
He says having more resources available would make a huge difference, and he calls for more MBA programs and tech incubators to educate people about mental health issues.
Freeman recalled a conversation with an entrepreneur who wanted to help other people in a similar situation but didn’t feel comfortable disclosing his struggles.
“[He] told me that he would really like to help other entrepreneurs but can’t because his company is going to be acquired or it’s going to be public within the next 12 months,” Freeman said. “He’s afraid that being associated with those issues could adversely impact the acquisition or the IPO.”
This seems to be indicative of a broader trend. Because while Silicon Valley appears to be an open-minded mecca, it’s not always a welcoming place for people to honestly discuss their mental health. Startups are encouraged to only let on that they’re “crushing it,” and founders in the throes of running a company are pressured to put on a good face for investors and employees.
“There’s this weird dynamic that happens where when you’re weakest, you’re most vulnerable, you can’t actually share that with your investors,” said Alfred. “Because maybe they won’t fund you right when you need it.”
Related: Does text therapy actually work?
Alfred encourages entrepreneurs struggling with mental health issues to find a network outside the company.
“If the only people you ever talk to are your employees and your investors and your board, you’re going to become overly focused on one thing,” he says, emphasizing that running a company can be isolating for those who are struggling.
Amy Buechler is a psychotherapist who works at Y Combinator, one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent incubators. She said these issues are particularly tricky for entrepreneurs.
“Being open and vulnerable is hard in general — really hard. Entrepreneurs themselves aren’t any more or less afraid of than the rest of us,” she said. “What’s changing is how society views entrepreneurs — they’re becoming celebrities, and with that comes scrutiny and high expectations.”
But she’s optimistic that the stigma is starting to disappear — and Y Combinator is trying to be part of that shift. The accelerator has invested in a nonprofit called Innerspace that hosts workshops on communication and emotional awareness and offers founder-friendly therapists.
“We’ve negotiated a deal with one of these clinics to lower the cost of therapy,” she says. “We’re doing everything we can to make it as easy as possible to access psychotherapy so founders are happy and healthy.”
Related: Can daily text messages close the confidence gap?
Heinz, meanwhile, hopes to facilitate a discussion in Silicon Valley that goes beyond success stories — that touches on the darker moments that often accompany those stories.
She had pins made for a suicide prevention walk in San Francisco called “Out of the Darkness.” They feature a smiling Austin and read: “We are all creatures, and we need one another.”
It’s a nod to her brother, who loved science and the idea of creation. They also serve as a message for those who may be suffering.
“It’s to say, ‘We’re a community.’ If we don’t hold each other up and provide support, it doesn’t allow us to thrive.”

Most Popular Addiction Triggers

June 16, 2015

So after years of trying, you’ve finally managed to get clean and sober. While you are rightfully feeling pretty good about yourself, the hard part, staying sober, actually begins now.Many addicts relapse for a variety of reasons. Here are 5 of the most common triggers for both newly recovering addicts and those with years of sobriety under their belt.

1. Holidays

This is a very common reason for relapse and one to be wary of at certain times of the year. The temptation to indulge can be enormous when the world and his wife appear to be imbibing and getting into the swing of festivities.

It is vital as a recovering addict that we put measures in place to guard against what can seem like overwhelming temptation. What can help strengthen our resolve is telling our loved ones if we are feeling vulnerable, having someone to look out for us and to whom we can be accountable. Whenever possible, avoid situations that may encourage your relapse. Speak to your recovery group or sponsor if you have one. Remember to always be prepared, use the tools you learned in rehab and remind yourself of what you were like before you got sober.

2. Stress

Whether it’s about work, financial concerns or relationship worries, we all have times when we experience stress and need to work harder to maintain our recovery. Stress is one of the biggest reasons people reach for their substance of choice—wanting to take a break from reality for a short space of time.

Learning to manage our stress in more productive ways will guard it from causing a relapse. You can do this by exercising regularly, sleeping well and eating a healthy diet. Some meditation, time out for yourself and willingness to ask for support during a stressful situation can do wonders in reducing your stress levels and preventing it from becoming a trigger.

3. Tiredness

Being tired and cranky leaves us feeling emotional and more susceptible to a relapse. When we’re tired, we become like cantankerous children—snappy, irritable and unreasonable. This is the perfect set of emotions that can lead to us blowing our serenity and reaching for our old coping strategies.

The importance of getting a regular night’s sleep cannot be overemphasized.

Maintaining our equilibrium and functioning in a calm and thoughtful manner is pivotal when it comes to staying sober. If you find it difficult to sleep, try breathing exercises, a hot bath or a warm milky drink before bed. If nothing seems to help, speak to your doctor.

4. Boredom

Boredom is one of the most common feelings in early recovery that can lead to a relapse. Once we are over the “pink cloud” of our initial achievement, we often struggle to find activities that fill the huge amount of time we used to spend abusing substances. Now that we are no longer using, the amount of drama in our lives is vastly reduced. This is when boredom sets in.

You have to put effort in finding new activities to fill the time you spent using your substance of choice. This can be anything, including sports, exercise, reading, a new hobby, watching TV, journaling, tidying up around the house or something you used to enjoy before you started using. The options are virtually endless. Find something that will distract you and take your mind off the urge to use.

5. Complacency

This is one for those with longer sobriety. Complacency is a very dangerous thing. It can make us feel as though we’ve already made it to the top and cause us to relax our vigilance. Truth is, this is the time we are actually highly vulnerable to a relapse. It is crucial that you always remain vigilant, keep in touch with your support group, attend meetings if you have to–anything that reminds you of the continuous work that needs to be done in order to maintain sobriety.

Although recovery gets easier with time, it is also often easy to forget where we came from. Even many years down the line, we must always remind ourselves about the risks that come with complacency.

For as long as you remain aware of the most common causes of a relapse, you’ll be able to successfully guard your sobriety. It pays to always remember that when it comes to staying clean, your abstinence is dependent on your continued vigilance.

Original Article from

Triggers With the Highest Risk

Triggers With the Highest Risk

Substance Abuse TriggersIdentifying which of the recovering addict’s substance abuse triggers are being overlooked by treatment providers, friends and other 12-step group members is crucial in developing an effective recovery program.

Based on a recent study published by the Society for the Study of Addiction, situations, people or objects uniquely relevant to a person’s drug or alcohol abuse have greater impact on the recovering addict’s tendency to relapse, as compared to generally recognized elements they are taught to avoid.

Cues, or “triggers,” consist of various types of stimuli in the environment that prompt a particular behavior or increase the risk of a certain type of response.

Some cues can affect a large number of people in a number of ways. One example of a general cue setting off a reaction is public speaking which can set off anxiety in some people. Other cues, however, may be personally relevant and are specific only to one individual. The aforementioned study looks at how cues, both general and specific, affect recovering addicts’ cravings for substances such as drugs and alcohol.

A Closer Look

Drs. Melina Fatseas and Fuschia Serre, along with other authors, investigated the behaviors of 132 outpatient individuals being treated for alcohol, tobacco, cannabis or opiate addiction. Using mobile technologies, participants were questioned four times a day regarding their drug or alcohol cravings, as well as the types of cues that produced or were associated with them.

Researchers then categorized the reported intensity of each person’s cravings under general substance-specific cues and person-specific cues. General substance-specific cues, for instance, would be a heroin addict seeing a syringe. On the other hand, person-specific cues would include a meeting with a specific person whom a participant had traditionally used their substance of choice with.

Findings suggest that only person-specific cues were associated with the reported increase in cravings over the hours of the day. While general cues were also reported to set off cravings, the participants’ desires tend to dissipate. Person-specific cues, however, were linked to an ever-increasing intensity of cravings among the participants. This concludes that person-specific cues produce a much more robust effect on a person’s drug or alcohol craving than more general substance-specific cues.

The Takeaway

This information is extremely helpful for individuals recovering from some type of substance abuse disorder because they can now exercise more vigilance to remain on the path of recovery.

A recovering addict can take an inventory of person-specific situations or cues that he/she considers as a personal trigger. This may be comprised of certain people, environments and even things like particular songs or movies. Perhaps it will even include going to a favorite bar, arguing with a spouse, getting off work on a Friday or bowling with friends.

Through this list, it will be easier for those in recovery to recognize relapse triggers when they pop up, understand their own reactions and take the necessary steps to stay in control.

Original Article from