Suicide and Extreme Sports


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Topic Author's Original Post - Apr 12, 2012 - 12:48pm PT
The loss of a friend recently has me thinking about the link between depression and people in our sports like ours and what we as a community can do to learn to recognize the signals. There is no reason that things like this need happen if we are aware of the risks associated with the personalities of our sports practitioners. Many of us are attracted to the life because its a place where we feel at home, where border line personalities and self-described misfits feel welcome.

It is great and all to laud the accomplishments of the latest thing, but without our community, and the central role that each one of us plays in protecting each others lives, we have nothing.

I would like to reserve this thread as a memorial and a place to raise awareness of this issue. I have seen some studies in the past regarding this issue and I would like to see more links anyone can share. Please share your stories and analysis and keep the spray to a low whisper.

I would very much like to see one of the Magazines (Alpinist?) take up this issue in a objective way so that we can raise awareness to a level where this can never happen. It should not.

We can honour those we lost by helping to protect those at risk in the future.


Trad climber
the crowd MUST BE MOCKED...Mocked I tell you.
Apr 12, 2012 - 01:25pm PT
I'm just as normal as the next climber.

-That's almost quotable as an axiom of climbing, eh?

Sorry for your loss. Hopefully folks will post up links to studies like you are hoping.


Social climber
Joshua Tree
Apr 12, 2012 - 02:14pm PT
A relevant thread from the past:


Trad climber
Fresno CA
Apr 12, 2012 - 02:18pm PT
I'd posted this on another thread a couple of years ago, but it bears repeating. I think the incidence of depression among climbers is quite high, but I also know that things aren't as bad as they seem to one suffering from it. Here's my story, edited only slightly to make ages current and to conform to the current context:

I hope that if others see how low depression took me, and therefore how far I've recovered, they'll see that what looks hopeless is not so.

Since 1991, I've had the highest legal peer-reviewed rating (Martindale-Hubbell "AV," 5.0 out of 5.0) and through the 1990's, at least, had a very admired, successful and lucrative law practice. Although I had momentary bouts of depression since at least 1994, they always went away on their own, so I didn't think I had a medical condition.

That changed in about 2002. Gradually, over the next few years, I grew unable to accomplish even the simplest of tasks at work without monumental effort. In addition, I slowly stopped climbing (a sure sign of illness!), playing the piano, cycling, and just about everything else that I formerly enjoyed. In addition, by then, my wife said I'd become very withdrawn. I slept inordinately. Both my wife and my secretary worried that I was suffering from depression, but I blew them off. I thought that I'd just snap out of it, and anything that was behind in the office would be cured by a couple of extra Saturdays of work.

I was wrong. Finally, in 2005, one client for whom I started litigation, but then stalled, had enough. She said she was coming to my office to see the results of the litigation I'd promised her. I knew it would take her about 45 minutes to get there. Desperate not to be confronted with my inaction, I made up a pleading, and even faked a court order. That latter act was one of forgery and counterfeiting under federal law, and something no sane lawyer would do. I gave her the "order," hoping to shut her up long enough for me to do my job.

Well, the good news was that the immorality of my action really did wake me up. Within a few minutes of her leaving my office, I was so appalled with what I'd done (or to my way of thinking, what I'd become -- a liar) that I immediately sought professional help. A few days later, I went to the court to tell them what happened. Unbeknownst to me, my client was already there, and the court clerk suspected what I'd done before I fessed up. My client had also already gone to the FBI, and my legal goose was cooked.

By then, though, I was hooked up with a physician and a psychologist, each of whom shared my Christian faith. I got good medication and good therapy. I also hooked up with a group of lawyers dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues (although the latter has never been an issue for me, the two often go hand-in-hand. Probably a form of self-medication.)

Talk about an inopportune time to regain my sanity! I saw in my immediate future at least the following: (1) the end of my career; (2) the destruction of my reputation; (3) abject poverty; and (4) no discernable way out. In fact, reality was worse in all respects except no. (4).

My wife had not worked outside our home or my office for almost 20 years, and had let her nursing license lapse. I knew my law license wouldn't remain for long, and I had already decided that I could not take any more new clients, and that I needed to refer all of my existing ones out so that I could end my practice. Unfortunately, our debts still remained. I had to file personal bankruptcy. I resigned from the Bar. I was indicted for forgery, pled guilty, and was sentenced to six months in federal prison. Had I known all this when I first went for help, I certainly would have seen no way out.

Nonetheless, several amazing things started happening then. First and foremost, friends started coming out of the woodwork. Virtually all of the legal community lined up to help me. My church and climbing friends rallied around us. My family did the same. Instead of rejecting me, they came to me. It was like being at my own funeral, and hearing all those nice things people say about you. Perhaps as importantly, they all knew that something had been wrong with me, and were delighted that I was finally doing something about it. Although I cannot excuse my dishonesty, everyone I care about has foregiven that dishonesty.

As my mental ability returned, so did my business opportunities. I had been, in addition to an attorney, an econometrician since 1973. My old roommate from college needed econometric help, and came to me. We're still working together. In addition, after serving my sentence (which I treated like a vacation, but that's another story), two lawyers I'd trained 20 years before hired me to be a sort of in-house scholar. The combination of these two jobs, plus my wife rejoining the nursing profession, is providing sufficient income. More importantly I am the happiest I have been in decades. Even though I'm 60 and had to start over at age 56 when I got out of prison, I see a good future for us.

I hope anyone reading this concludes that whatever is in his or her future, it can't be much worse (and, I hope, it is much less worse) than what I went through. We all can help. No one needs to face a hopeless battle, nor need they face it alone.

Unfortunately for my comments, but fortunately for my wallet, I need to do some paying work now, but anyone going through depression should feel free to email me if he or she needs someone who's been through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but now fears no evil.


Trad climber
Anchorage, AK
Apr 12, 2012 - 02:36pm PT

Your story is very moving, and I'm glad to hear you got the help you needed.

I know I'm a few days early, but as Saint Seraphim of Sarov was known to say throughout the year, "Christ is Risen!"

Trad climber
30 mins. from suicide USA
Apr 12, 2012 - 03:05pm PT
Wow!!! good stuff right there John...Thanks for the share and it does help people i feel when you can listen or read others ways of digging out of that rut.

Trad climber
Anchorage, AK
Apr 12, 2012 - 03:25pm PT
I don't have the statistics to back it up, but it seems like most suicides I'm familiar with have been teenage kids that aren't involved in any sports. Most of the climbers I know seem to have a real zeal for life.

I don't mean to dimish the op's loss nor those who are suffering from depression.
Scott McNamara

Social climber
Tucson, Arizona
Apr 12, 2012 - 04:26pm PT
Really nice post, John.

Nov 16, 2012 - 09:10am PT
John, I really enjoyed your post. Thank you for sharing that story. I also read the original version that you posted in a thread about Jeff Batten's depression/suicide. This forum, for all its silliness, has some amazing posts. Sincerely, -C.
scuffy b

heading slowly NNW
Nov 16, 2012 - 11:54am PT
Thanks for baring yourself again, John.
It's really surprising sometimes to learn that everyone else has such a
higher opinion of you than you do of yourself.
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Colombia, South America
Nov 16, 2012 - 11:59am PT
John the practice of law, particularly as a solo, can be overwhelmingly stressful. I am only able to do it because I only take cases for causes I deeply believe in. Then any suffering I go through, I feel like its the dues I have to pay to do important, good work. In particular it is very difficult to level out the work, there's either nothing to do, or its impossible to meet deadlines. Plus everyone in the legal system is totally stressed out, and many opposing counsel use psychological pressure tactics, or are so sneaky you get paranoid to talk to them at all. Its not a normal human environment. If you are in need of money, I notice that the market for contract attorneys in SF is very hot, pays higher than anywhere else I know of. Much of the work is document review or research and you may not need to be licensed. Although check with the bar obviously.

I never associated depression with climbing. If I wanted to die climbing, it would have been the easiest thing in the world, lol. It's an escape from reality, but its normal for people to do that, and healthy too, I think.
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