Baugues Shares Battle with Depression with CS Students
On October 16, Greg Baugues, a former CS @ ILLINOIS student and currently a developer evangelist at Twilio, spoke before a full house in the Siebel Center auditorium in a talk titled “Developers and Depression.”
CS Professor Lenny Pitt, CS @ ILLINOIS director of undergraduate programs, introduced Baugues with a few statistics. The National Institute of Mental Health states that about 9% of young people between the ages of 18 and 25 suffer from a major depressive episode each year. “The prevalence of mental illnesses such as clinical depression and bipolar disorder are much higher than you might imagine,” said Pitt, “and it touches everybody's lives either directly or indirectly through friends and family.”
Baugues spent nearly five years attending the University of Illinois as a computer science student, Greg Baugues never quite finished his Illinois degree. He didn’t realize it at the time, but the difficulties he had been experiencing in remaining focused on work, attending classes regularly, and completing assignments were related to his having attention deficit disorder (ADD) and being bipolar.
Since being diagnosed with these conditions and finding a medication regime that works for him, Baugues regularly gives talks discussing his situation as a way to help others who may be suffering.
“If you think someone has bipolar, you can’t go up to them and say, hey, I think you have bipolar,” Baugues said. “The best approach is to do what I am doing here today, which is to share my story.”
As Baugues pointed out, many of the traits associated with ADD and bipolar can help people, at first, be successful as computer developers. Symptoms such as hyperfocus, isolation, and irregular sleep patterns could seem like appropriate responses to the pressures of creating code, and could readily be embraced by companies and fellow programmers.
But the underlying mental illness needs to be addressed. “One in three [people with bipolar] will attempt suicide,” Baugues said. “Ten to twenty percent of people who have bipolar will die from it. It has a higher mortality rate than some forms of cancer.”
However, many of these conditions can be treated. “We don’t have cures for mental illness,” Baugues said, “but we do have treatments.”
And regarding the tendency of some to dismiss medications treating mental illness as a crutch, Baugues said that “the goal is not to live life without crutches. The goal is to live your life.”
The talk had a strong impact on many who attended. “I found it to be powerful, funny, poignant, and incredibly relevant,” Pitt said. Another faculty member told Pitt that the talk had been one of the best of any kind he had ever seen, and a student referred to the talk as “life changing.”
A video of Baugues's talk in the Siebel Center is available online.
If you think you or someone you know may be experiencing depression or other issues, there are resources available on campus.
- The Counseling Center provides a variety of services, including counseling services, educational programming initiatives, training programs, outreach, and consultation services. They also have a number of self-help brochures available. The center is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and can be reached by phone at (217) 333-3704.
- The Counseling Center staffs a crisis line 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It can be reached at (217) 359-4141.
- The Emergency Dean is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to provide assistance in times of emergency, such as illnesses, hospitalizations, accidents, deaths, or other major crises. The service is staffed by the Office of the Dean of Students during university office hours and by on-call Student Affairs professionals at all other times. Call (217) 333-0050.