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The 18-year-old open source contributor committed suicide. Who cares about the developer’s mental health?

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How difficult is it for open source developers? We can see this from multiple recent incidents and investigation results.

  • Babel, an open source project with millions of users, is in financial trouble;
  • Pedronauck, author of the open source project Docz, said that maintaining open source is too difficult, and this work hurts both physically and mentally;
  • The Tidelift survey shows that open source maintainers are facing the dilemma of less money and more pressure, and more than half have withdrawn or considered withdrawing;
  • Super Nintendo emulator bsnes developer Near committed suicide due to cyberbullying;
  • The open source code was copied and sold...

Recently, we saw another piece of sad news: Redox OS contributor jD91mZM2
Suicide in March 2021, only 18 years old. He has participated in the Redox OS Summer of Code in 2018, 2019 and 2020, and has contributed to all aspects of Redox OS, from kernel to relibc to porting programs.

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GitHub's dynamics will always stop in March, sorry

The author of Redox OS, Jeremy Soller, sent a message to mourn. He said: open source requires a lot of work to be sustainable, and a large part of the work is to care for the health of the open source community and its members.

Jeremy Soller recalled the contribution of jD91mZM2 in the article, calling everyone to pay attention to the physical and mental health of open source developers. SegmentFault thinks whether to compile and organize the article, I hope everyone can pay more attention to the health of open source developers.

Reflection

Yesterday, I received a message from another contributor saying that jD91mZM2 has not been online for a long time and has not responded to emails. I tried to contact him through the information I had, but found nothing. I revealed the real name of jD91mZM2 to another contributor, and he found the obituary of jD91mZM2. We verified his name, place and date of birth. Although the cause of death is not listed, I think the evidence we found suggests that he committed suicide after the onset of mental illness.

After learning of all this, I was shocked. He is a very productive contributor, not only Redox, but also contributed to many other projects. How can he feel that death is better than life? This is a man of unlimited abilities, and until recently, he seemed to be able to control his life well. But the longer I live, the more I realize that this may be just an illusion, and things are deteriorating quickly.

The last time I communicated with jD91mZM2 was in February, one month before his death. This communication is purely technical, about the aarch64 port of the Redox kernel. I can't help but think that maybe this was one of the factors that made him choose to die.

In open source, we often emphasize the importance of good code. After all, the deliverables of every open source project are source code, but we often forget that good code is written by excellent people. Keeping these people and making them happy should be the main concern of project maintainers. .

Mental health incidents involve many aspects. On the one hand, mental illness usually has genetic factors. On the other hand, these genetic precursors usually require chronic and acute environmental triggers. Chronic triggers may be the long-term poor family or work environment and lead to manifestations of mental illness itself. The acute trigger may be quarrels with others, leading to mental illness. Mental illness can be severe enough to overcome a person's survival instinct and eventually lead to suicide.

Viewed this way, suicide is not a sign of weakness.

However, the position taken by society is that these events are unstoppable forces, and the factors that lead to suicide are internal rather than external. I refuse to believe this. We must find the cause for each problem and try to alleviate it, even if it is not possible in the end.

Therefore, I must examine my behavior to see if I can make a difference, to see if I can save a life, and to see what life I can save in the future.

Open source and mental health

Certain aspects of open source seem to appeal to the strangest humans, including myself. Insist that everything is checkable, which may be driven by compulsive behavior. And those who are prone to this behavior often inherited from other diseases. Diseases such as ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, and depression are very common among open source contributors.

Therefore, the open source community also clearly lacks soft skills. This will obviously split the community and separate open source from the "normal" world. Fortunately for us, open source has finally become a profitable industry, and the injection of capital has brought significant diversification of open source talents.

However, this comes at a price: people who do not adapt to the new commercial interests of open source projects are often abandoned; due to disagreements with the initial maintainers, the project itself has insurmountable changes, and the project is further forked. I have been involved in all this myself.

In most cases, we lack an investigation of labor costs, investigate the mental health incidents of a large number of open source contributors, and try to find commonalities. Sometimes mental illness will bring about new projects, sometimes it will make contributors too tired or even leave open source, and sometimes it will lead to suicide.

We must recognize our role in the chronic factors that lead to mental illness and the acute factors that lead to dangerous episodes.

my journey

I am not an insulator for mental illness. I often receive messages like, "You seem to be in control, how did you do it?" The cruel fact is that none of us may truly control everything. The definition of "all in control" may be very different. Having a successful project does not mean having universal happiness.

I must admit that I am happier now than ever. So, maybe compared with ordinary people, I did control the situation. My life is a long journey full of therapists, psychiatrists, drugs and isolation. I can end my life as easily as everyone else. Fortunately, I was lucky to find chronic stressors and eliminated them dutifully.

When I was a freshman in college, I was very difficult. (At that time, I was about the same age as when jD91mZM2 decided to end his life.) I gained almost 50 pounds and I lived with three other roommates, two of whom died young. I alternately use anti-attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications, antidepressants, and even smoking — looking for something that "cures" me. During that time, I have been programming, often neglecting school homework to do programming.

Before university, I had an internship at Zall Medical Company, writing defibrillator software, and obtained two patents from this work. To be honest, my understanding of computers far exceeds that of others. However, my understanding of people, including myself, lags far behind others.

During that time, I established contact with the vice president of R&D, and he became my de facto boss. At the end of the freshman year, he asked me if I wanted to continue working, and I agreed.

Sophomore life is very different to me. I spend most of my time writing software and make a lot of money. I had no interest in school, failed several courses, and soon dropped out of university to work full-time in software engineering.

This has had a huge positive impact on my mental health. I lost weight, kept in touch with my university alumni, and met my wife through them. We bought a house together, got married and had a beautiful daughter. I started the Redox OS project and started working on System76. Since my sophomore year, I have never thought about mental health, and I don’t need treatment or medication. All my stress is gone.

One person’s mental health success does not always translate into the success of others. During this journey, I created and destroyed hundreds of relationships. I have to admit that when I am happy, I have a tendency to cause completely opposite emotions in others. I keep those relationships that bring me happiness and ignore those that require effort. And at some point, maybe I forgot to keep in touch with jD91mZM2 to make sure he found the same happiness as me.

Is there a solution?

At the end of the article, Jeremy Soller believes that there is no solution to this situation, and each case is different. But he decided not to evaluate them based on the code written by the contributors. He said that the code cannot be written by itself, and the person who writes the code needs more maintenance than the "open source" itself.

Reference link: https://www.redox-os.org/news/open-source-mental-health/

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