Rubber Ducking Mental Health

Note: This post is part of Prompt: Supporting Mental Health Awareness in the Technology Industry

php[tek] in Rosemont, IL recently featured a Mental Health Summit with speakers and sponsorship from Engine Yard and our Prompt initiative.

The Summit brought together four amazing people, Greg Baugues, Paddy Foran, Ed Finkler, and, for his first ever talk on mental health and anxiety, Ben Marks.

The talks were tied together by the emcee, Engine Yard’s very own PJ Hagerty.

It was during a discussion a couple of hours prior to taking the stage, the speakers got to know each other and Paddy mentioned wanting to walk people through all the variations of a day in the life of someone suffering from depression.

As people filed into the hall, grabbed pizza, and took their seats, PJ introduced Greg and we were off.

Greg’s ability to tell his story with humor and emotion are unparalleled. He gave the opportunity to see things from his perspective, a person suffering from ADHD and type 2 bipolar, in a way only he could deliver it.

Greg was followed up by Paddy, who started with a small intro into his mental health problems, asked everyone to close their eyes (“I know this isn’t very comfortable, you’ll get over it”) and then promptly read through the most moving monologue describing his, or anyone’s day suffering from depression.

In the short time between the earlier discussion and the summit, Paddy had come up with something that accomplished so much — not the least of which was a complete lack of dry eyes in the crowd. People came away from his talk with an understanding of how different depression can be, not just from person-to-person, but day-to-day, and a new-found empathy for him and those around us.

He was then followed by Ben, who gave a moving account about his history with anxiety, starting in middle school with a family trip and leading to just a few moments before taking the stage.

Ed was chosen to go last because he wanted to conclude with information on Mental Health First Aid (and give away a ticket to one person in the audience). Just one year prior his journey into speaking on Open Sourcing Mental Illness began. At php[tek] 2013, he was invited to speak at the unconf, and started the ball rolling on what eventually became the Mental Health Summit at php[tek] 2014. However, do not think the job is complete, this is just a start into removing the stigma mental health issues often experience, both in the tech world and outside of it.

Last year, thanks to Ed’s talk, I gained an understanding into my wife’s bipolar, and having worked alongside Prompt since it was announced at last year’s Distill I felt that I was simply helping others by assisting with the Summit.

Not so.

I knew going into the summit what depression was. Having lost my wife in 2006, I had suffered from “normal” depression (that is: trauma induced, not mental illness). Thanks to the summit, and particularly to Paddy, I now see much more clearly that I suffer from depression in some form, not simply the temporary feelings accompanying a loss or large scale life change.

After the summit, I had a conversation with @coderabbi who delivered the quote that gave this post its name:

When our code breaks, what do we do? We get out our rubber duck, and we talk it through. During this process, we, ourselves, figure out our problem and solve it.

Seeing a counselor is the same thing — they are your rubber duck.

It currently takes 10 years on average for someone to be diagnosed with mental health issues, and this is primarily due to lack of acknowledgment; the stigma. We can solve this, and literally save lives.

If you want to do something actionable today, we encourage you to check out the Mental Health First Aid for you and your company — it’s a simple 8 hour course that can change lives.

Watch Greg, Paddy, Ben and Ed share their stories and experiences.

One Year Of Prompt

Distill 2014 will mark one year since we launched Prompt.

We have enabled our speakers to attend dozens of events during the last 10 months, and the response has been exactly as we’d hoped.

Not only are the speakers doing an amazing job speaking about their experiences, listening to, and answering questions from people, but people are also asking each other their questions and sharing their own stories — with us and each other — amplifying the conversation.

We have also been talking to many potential new speakers who want to get up on stage and share their stories — which when you think about it, when the very subject we are talking about is a huge barrier to doing so (anxiety and depression in particular), is a remarkable thing.

The conversation about mental health is slowly but surely building, helping to remove the stigma that is our biggest danger.

If you or your company are interested in helping us reach our goals, by speaking, providing space, hosting a speaker at your event, or in any other way, contact us at

About Davey Shafik

Davey Shafik is a full time PHP Developer with 12 years experience in PHP and related technologies. A Community Engineer for Engine Yard, he has written three books (so far!), numerous articles and spoken at conferences the globe over.

Davey is best known for his books, the Zend PHP 5 Certification Study Guide and PHP Master: Write Cutting Edge Code, and as the originator of PHP Archive (PHAR) for PHP 5.3.