Trey Pennington & the social media mask…

Image courtesy of

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs & articles about Trey Pennington today. If you’re not familiar with who Trey was, he was one of the leaders in the social space, and a very talented marketer, author, and speaker. Unlike a lot of the authors publishing posts about him — I did not know Trey.

I saw him come up in many a twitter timeline and in passing conversation with colleagues, but I had never met him. There is something that deeply disturbs me when I think about the death of this man. You see, much like myself, Trey was a pretty positive guy from an outside perspective — all that to say, you wouldn’t think he had a reason to be depressed or thinking of suicide. I mean, he had six children – that is a reason to live in and of itself.

The story is, Pennington killed himself in a church parking lot on Sunday. I read a post that described his suicide as

“Sitting with a gun in his hand in front of his church 4,000 miles away in Greenville, South Carolina.” – Denis G Campbell

Then of course, there was his last tweet:

Sure am thankful for online friends who are real friends, offlline, too.

All of this sends shivers down my spine.

You see, I (as well as many people like me) come across exactly like Trey Pennington when you read our social profiles & updates. Happy, caring, stress-free, successful. The thing is – Trey was not these things, he had a broken heart, and he decided to take his life because of it. In social media, we have a tendency to hide our true feelings and post breaking news instead. Our “image” comes before our life – and people who may have been able to change life’s cruel path never got a chance to because Trey chose to protect his image.

Depression is a very scary disease that a LOT of people suffer from – and it is very scary. Social media should not be a mask to this. Reading Intuitive Bridge‘s post about Trey really opened my eyes to how scary & real it can be, but also how it only takes one person to get you to step down off the ledge.

I admit, I suffer from the same tendencies — hiding when I’m sad or upset in favor of professional image. I don’t want people to see my vulnerability, to know that I have problems, too – but Trey’s story has really humbled me in that respect. I do not suffer from clinical depression, but I know that my friends (both online & offline) would be the first people I would ask for help if it one day decides to rear its ugly head in my life — and I want any of my readers or followers to feel that they can approach me if they need help also.

R.I.P. Trey Pennington, my condolences go out to both your online & offline friends & family – and I hope that in some way I can live up to your professional success one day.



  1. Japman · September 14, 2011

    Thanks for writing this. We in the industry are quick to tout the praises and joys of social media, but guess what – there are VERY real issues with what we do online.

    As you are probably aware, in marketing perception is reality. And when you’re in the business of marketing, you suddenly aren’t allowed to talk about your feelings and your emotions. It’s sad. If you don’t have a group of people who you can actually discuss these issues with, or a support network or set of beliefs/values/opinions that help you cope with the realities of life, it can get very lonely and very difficult…very quickly.

    It’s sad that this is what people in our industry have to do to protect our image. To think, the mommy-community became a powerful force on the internet *BECAUSE* of the loneliness and depressions that many moms experience post-natal. They ewre able to form communities to rely on each other and the advent of social media allowed them to cope with their emotional and contextual difficulties. In the rest of our case, social media is almost prohibiting or preventing that.

    We need to find a solution. We’ve already heard of the issues that adolescents and adults are having subconsciously because of the perception of their peers’ lives. In other words, we know that kids and adults alike are looking at their friends’ facebook profiles with envy at the perceived perfection of their peers’ lives. We’re so focussed on this image thing that it’s literally killing our society.

    So. Anyone can point out problems. What’s the solution? I’m still working on it… but I wonder what your thoughts are.

    • Marissa Gagnier · September 15, 2011

      It’s funny, I had a discussion on this last week — and subconsciously I think I found my answer. ‘Protecting an image’ isn’t worth anything to me, really. My image is not how I myself define success, so I can’t let it dictate how I express my emotions, loneliness, what have you.

      In fact, if you look at celebrities (in any form) you notice the one’s who destroy their lives with drugs, alcohol, and suicide are really only protecting an image that’s been handed to them by a publicist or public relations person.

      My realization was that ultimately, my ‘image’ can be one of my choosing. If I want to express my emotions, so be it. Everyone has feelings, even successful people (I know, a stretch). In my opinion, my success will be emotional sanity as well as professional recognition. I make time for work, but also balance that with time for family & friends. I don’t want to be two different people in each arena, I want to be me — adapted to the situation or environment that I’m in.

      Prevention comes in at a different level. We make so many shallow connections in social media, instead of few deep ones. I’m not sure how to prevent depression and the seemed happy image disconnection but that’s something that we have to work on as an industry. We’re all smart & good at what we do, but we’re all people — and sometimes it takes someone like Trey to make us realize that.

      Thanks for the comment Japman!

  2. Pingback: Social Suicide? | Roberts Wesleyan College

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