Severe Depression and Effective Altruism

Gary, I can't agree more with Holly. I lost a friend to suicide last year and I can tell you that you are wrong that "If I gave away all this money I've just got and really angered my parents, who I love so much, and completely broke their trust, then committed suicide, I would still make more of a positive difference to the world than selfishly getting "better" and spending it on myself."

It is too narrow a view for one to think that one has made a positive difference to the world if he/she/they took his/her/their life. It is a gross miscalculation in discounting the depth of pain that will be impacted on others. It is not reasonable to think that there will be positive difference outweighing the negative impact. You are also not taking into account how much more good you can do in the future, if you keep trying to make a difference (in as evidence-based way as you can) and your potential multiplier effect if you continue to share with others how they can consider to do more good in their lives.

I only worked closely with this friend for a year. We were in social work and he was trained as a counsellor. Thus we were all well aware of mental health issues. I had not kept in touch with him for the past few years but he made a difference in my life — just like how he made a difference in thousands of people's lives. I am not exaggerating when I say thousands. On the day of his funeral, which was on a Friday afternoon, 500-600 people came. If it weren't a workday, there might have been more people. We all mourned the loss of this amazing human being. We wondered how he could have forgotten that he was loved by so many in this world — including his most immediate family members. We are dumbfounded that of all people, he did not prioritise his own mental health or to reach out.

I write this to emphasise the pain that people have to go through when their loved ones take their own life. Despite us not being close friends, I am impacted by his death. I, like many others, ask ourselves what we could have done to prevent that. I've reconnected with many friends from social work (I am no longer in this field) and more than half a year on, some of us still dream about him. This is how we are affected by his passing. We are all saddened, but the pain is most profound for his parents and family. They are living with this irreversible loss for the rest of their lives. For anyone going through severe depression, I hope that there is a tiny little gap in the mind for this note to slip through, "You are loved by many in this world. We want you to be around."

He was a counsellor. He was a paramedic. He was a social worker. All throughout his life, he was helping others. I cannot think of how the world is a better place without him because it is not. If he is still here, there would be much more laughter and he'd be of much more support in many people's lives.

By being part of the EA community, I presume that you care about doing good and to do the most good that you can. Me too. I have days that I can't function or get out of bed as well. I think this happens to more EAs than we'd ever be aware of. We are all not perfect, but we are all trying to apply the principles of EA and do what we can. It is important to be well in order to serve others better. On good days, you can think more clearly, be more strategic, be more collaborative and be more compassionate. Try to 'get through' the bad days — these are transient. When you've exhausted yourself enough, strive for good days and make the most of your bursts of productivity. I think that you will be able to do some good, if not a lot of good, on such days.

There is a big difference between empathic resonance and compassion. The latter allows you to do more good; the former leads to more burnout. I know, because I am more the former than latter. But we need to catch ourselves when we realise: https://www.matthieuricard.org/en/blog/posts/empathy-fatigue-1

I can't escape the logic of effective altruism and I start to feel terrible about lives being lost due to me.

EA is not to learn about the sufferings in this world and start living with unbearable guilt. EA is about learning about the sufferings - of present and future sentient lives - and figuring out how we can do more to alleviate these unnecessary sufferings. It's about realising that we have the potential to create a greater positive difference than what we are doing now. 

When I am feeling more "normal", I also don't want to oppose my parents when it is them gifting me this money for a specific reason.

Giving is just one way of doing good. You give when you can. If you can't use your money, use your time. If you can't use your career, use your skills. Help the EA community near you grow. Help them grow well. You never know when — but it is possible that you will start to influence others to start thinking about how they can do more to help others. 

At this point my scrupulosity and perfectionism kicks in and I beat myself up to a large amount (but still with a feeling of paralysis...rather than taking action, so far).

Surround yourself with good people. Try to find friends who are like-minded, understanding and compassionate to hang out with. When we lose ourselves in guilt, we procrastinate and we lose the opportunities to do more good. People care about you and you need to remember that people love you. By being altruistically inclined and constructive, you will be adding to the quotient of positivity in this world. 

Comparing yourself to others doesn't help make the world a better place. Doing the most good that you can is not equivalent to doing the most good in the group. You contribute what you can. Individuals make up the collective. Collectively, we make a greater impact in this world. 

Seek support. Be well, Gary. <3