Aaron Swartz, suicide, and the dilemmas of being above average

Aaron Swartz can't discuss his suicide with us and it is impossible to speak for him, but in his honor we can consider the pitfalls that sometimes accompany exceptional talents and gifts. Photo: Joi Ito

CHICAGO, Illinois, January 16, 2013 - It seems an injustice to say that Aaron Swartz’s legal troubles caused his suicide.

Swartz was familiar with depression and his legal problems no doubt caused enormous stress. Stress exacerbates depression, and severe depression is agony. There is no better word for the experience than agony. When you are inside the pain there seems no end to it other than death. 

Not knowing Aaron Swartz makes it impossible to speak for him, but in his honor we can consider a problem he likely understood.  

Children and adults who are highly talented, emotionally sensitive, or spiritually precocious are susceptible to existential depression, despair as a reaction to the realities of existence.  

People who contemplate, reflect, question, and analyze naturally bump up against issues of purpose, meaning, relationship, and death. They have a clear understanding of life as it is lived and simultaneously have a vision of life being lived better, and how to accomplish that. Yet, in the great scheme of things, how insignificant one person feels. 

There are children who grow up wondering why people, even those they love, say one thing and do something else. They wonder how it is possible to rationalize poisoning the environment, why ideas are more important than life, why humans have so much potential but live with mediocrity. There are children who feel the sadness our world generates, or know in their hearts the essential oneness of humanity.  

A young person who can think abstractly, is intuitive, or knows the language of emotions often has no where to share their thoughts. The adults they know may be unfamiliar with their thinking, fearful of it, or angry with it. Their peers may not relate to the concerns that occupy them so they have difficulty making friends, or must ignore their gifts to make friendships.  

There are enormous frustrations that can accompany being above average, and the frustration can over time turn into anger, a sense of powerlessness, and futility. The dilemma of having sensitivities that dwell on one side of the fence, while having to make a living on the senseless side of the fence, can cause people of any age to disintegrate into depression. Some individuals go back and forth between integration and disintegration throughout their lives. 

It is not elitist to acknowledge that some people are more intelligent, talented, or sensitive than others. Everyone knows it is a fact, and it is not something to fear. Many people who are gifted are also egalitarian, compassionate, generous, and though full of flaws they do not desire having power over others; quite the opposite. 

Human beings generally want a means of sharing what they have to offer, and to have it appreciated. In this respect, we can understand one another. Aaron Swartz contributed and received appreciation. He also struggled with depression, and the consequences of actively bringing his vision of free, available information into reality. Somehow, it all came to a point of agony that he could not tolerate, and he ended his life. 

There are issues of stress management, chemical imbalances, family history, and environment to be considered when looking at depression and suicide. However, something that may prevent very talented and sensitive children from developing an adult propensity for existential suffering is recognition and acceptance of their thoughts and feelings, and the opportunity to discuss them and receive support.


“When I consider the brief span of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and behind it, the small space that I fill, or even see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces which I know not, and which know not me, I am afraid, and wonder to see myself here rather than there; for there is no reason why I should be here rather than there, nor rather now than then.” ~ Blaise Pascal

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Jacqueline Marshall

Jacqueline Marshall is a writer for Help For Depression, and freelances primarily in the areas of psychology and personal development. She has a MA in Counseling Psychology and is a licensed therapist living near Chicago.

Jacqueline has experience helping those diagnosed with severe, persistent mental illness, and in providing general therapy services for individuals, couples, and families. Prior to counseling, she worked in graphic design and music education.

When not writing or counseling, Jacqueline enjoys reading literature and math-less books about quantum physics. She is a published poet, and has studied animal communication and energy healing.  


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