Saturday, September 12, 2009

Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide - Kay Redfield Jamison

After several teen suicides and attempted suicides in my hometown this past year, I started to feel incredibly helpless. Despite the obvious sadness of young lives lost, I felt overwhelming frustration. It is often easy for people to dismiss teen suicide as the result of immaturity or a lack of perspective - heartbreak over unrequited love or a rejection letter from Harvard. What people ignore is the reality - that the majority of suicides, those of teenagers and adults - are the result of chonic and untreated mental illness. Jamison's thorough and exhausting book attempts to get to the bottom of the frightening epidemic around the world - of men and women, from all walks of life. Jamison explores all aspects of suicide - from analyzing the data to detemine which age groups are killing themselves, to their purported reasons for doing so. She looks at the methods that people use and the notes they leave behind. She includes stories of famous people in history, as well as tragic examples from today. Jamison's book is haunting, but I think so important. It is with all this back story that Jamison then turns to the most important question: how do we prevent suicide? While there are obviously no easy answers, Jamison explores suggestions for how to talk about mental illness as a predictor for suicide, how to recognize and assess the warning signs, and how to cope after a devastating loss. This book was a very difficult read for me. I would read a chapter here and there and then put it aside because I simply found it too sad. But, I am glad I read it. I hope that more people will - I hope it will help us to better understand suicide, to dispel the shame our society attaches to it, to encourage people to ask for help when they feel alone, and to help all of us to be better equipped to give the assistance so many people desperately need.

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