It’s no secret that practitioners of information security face certain mental health risks and challenges that are unique to those in our field. Mental health in information security is an important issue to us.
Long hours in isolation can cause pen testers to become more susceptible to depression, anxiety, and substance abuse [source]. An inability to “switch off” and let their guard down coupled with low budgets and high expectations can cause those in security leadership extremely high-stress levels and fast burnout [source]. A bombardment of bad news about breach after breach can overwhelm any InfoSec practitioner.
Asking for help, telling someone you’re struggling, and finding quality care are all barriers many people who work in information security face. So, in efforts that align with our mission of fixing the broken industry, we put together some information and resources to help spread awareness, give those who may be suffering help and hope, and give those who are close to them the tools to offer their support.
Please keep in mind that we are information security experts, not medical professionals. While we share this information as a guide and a list of available resources we know about, we strongly encourage you to seek professional help for any mental health challenges you may be facing.
Immediate Assistance for Those Suffering
If you need immediate help, please call 800-273-8255 or chat the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
General Tips from an Information Security Perspective
If you are feeling lonely, hopeless, or are suffering from mental health struggles, you are not alone. In fact, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences mental illness each year [source]. We encourage you to reach out to someone you trust or can relate to and talk about how you feel. Human connection is a valuable treatment for many mental health struggles.
If you’re facing difficult information-security-related feelings, you can find support. For example, check out the inSANITY Check-In Twitter or reach out to Evan Francen, FRSecure’s CEO, via Twitter or email. Evan is passionate about the industry and its practitioners, and he is happy to connect with folks—especially those who need help.
Additionally, a number of support groups are available for broad mental health challenges and specific disorders. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, has an online directory for support groups. For more specific groups, Mental Health America offers an extensive list of available options, including those related to specific disorders or types of childhood trauma.
During the pandemic, many of these groups and meetings have moved online. This means that you may have more access to these resources than you otherwise might.
Seek a Specialist
For the latter, we recommend you call a few different providers before your first appointment and ask some questions. Find out about their style of care, perspective, and outlook to make sure they are a good fit for you. You may find that, much like friendships, business relationships, or romantic relationships, you have to find the right counselor fit for you.
Information security folks tend to be a rare breed—this industry attracts a certain kind of person, and it helps to find someone who can relate. The more compatible you are with your provider, the better help you’ll receive.
Research, Research, Research
The more information you have about whatever your condition is or may be, the better you’ll be able to seek help, advocate for yourself, and understand why you feel the way you do. The best recommendation that we can give is to talk to a trusted mental health professional to get a diagnosis; self-diagnosing is rarely effective or fully accurate, and you likely do not have access to all of the treatment options available. So, we cannot emphasize enough that getting a professional opinion and diagnosis is step one.
Once you know what you are working with, seek organizations whose focus it is you want to learn more about. There is a wealth of information about just about every single mental health challenge you can think of, from attention deficit disorder (ADD) to premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) to anxiety, depression, and everything in between.
Confide in People Who Understand Unique Information Security Challenges
Mental Health Hackers is an information security industry-specific non-profit organization. This group of volunteer hackers helps other hackers by “educating [people] about the unique mental health risks faced by those in our field, providing guidance on reducing their effects and better managing the triggering causes, and providing support services to those who may be susceptible to related mental health issues.” In addition to online resources, Mental Health Hackers hosts a Mental Health and Wellness Village at industry trade shows that gives attendees an opportunity to rest, recharge, and take time for self-care.
To Help Those Suffering
One of the challenges people who struggle with mental health face is not knowing where to turn when they need help. They may feel as though their friends or family wouldn’t understand, don’t want to hear about it, or have a lot to worry about themselves, so they wouldn’t want to be burdened with others’ problems. While none of those are usually the case, it’s important to be aware of these potential barriers.
One of the most powerful and important things you can do to help someone with mental health challenges is to do what is known as “holding space.” This basically means listening nonjudgmentally with empathy and compassion, or just physically being with someone, even if they’re not talking. Sometimes they aren’t sure what to say or how to express their feelings, and sitting with someone who cares about them is enough to help. When you hold space for someone, you don’t try to fix what’s bothering them—you share unconditional kindness and let their situation be what it is, together.
A great place to learn more, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, has a library of useful resources. These resources explain what mental health conditions are, what to look out for, and how you can help. And those are just a few examples of what they offer. Take a look around their site to learn more about all aspects of mental health.
Mental Health First Aid
If you have a friend, family member, or other loved one who’s experiencing mental health challenges, but you have no idea where to even start to help, consider taking a course in Mental Health First Aid. This course teaches skills like listening nonjudgmentally, giving reassurance and information, and encouraging both professional help and self-help. Note: there is a fee for these courses.
To Spread Awareness
There are as many ways to share about mental health as there are people in the world. Also, the size and impact of your actions can vary. One thing remains true: no matter if you help one person or a thousand people, by becoming aware of mental health challenges and how we can help, you’re still making a positive difference. And that’s worth doing.
One of the fastest, easiest ways you can help spread awareness about mental health is to simply talk to people. Talk to your friends, family, and colleagues—anyone with whom you feel comfortable sharing. Share what you have learned and how you intend to help others. Talk about how you feel, or how a condition affects you or your behavior. Often one of the best ways you can open the door to help others is to make yourself vulnerable first. Telling someone honestly how you feel may make them feel more comfortable to share their own feelings with you.
Use Your Platforms
Whether you know it or not, everyone has a voice and a sphere of influence. For instance, you may participate in social media platforms, talk with colleagues, mingle in various social groups or congregations, and more. Think about where and how people listen to you, and make it a point to bring mental health up in those places and ways.
As we mentioned earlier, there are too many organizations focused on mental health to list. Find one that is important to you and look for ways to get involved. If you’re not sure what help they need, reach out to let them know you’re interested in helping. Most non-profits need the kinds of skills you possess; put them to work for a great cause!
Despite its prevalence, this complex topic can feel daunting, especially when the stigma around mental illness is so significant. We are passionate about empowering people as we work to fix this broken industry. We hope the resources and information we have provided helps our fellow information security practitioners live happier, healthier lives. As always, we’re here. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.