Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Kay Redfield Jamison

Cover via Goodreads.

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

*Note: I do not post all of my book reviews on this blog. For more, check out my Goodreads page.*

“Suicide is a particularly awful way to die: the mental suffering leading up to it is usually prolonged, intense, and unpalliated. There is no morphine equivalent to ease the acute pain, and death not uncommonly is violent and grisly. The suffering of the suicidal is private and inexpressible, leaving family members, friends, and colleagues to deal with an almost unfathomable kind of loss, as well as guilt. Suicide carries in its aftermath a level of confusion and devastation that is, for the most part, beyond description.”

A gripping, masterful book about a topic shrouded in horror and sadness. Clinical psychologist and bestselling author of memoir An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison delves into the issue of suicide with precision and aplomb. She treats the subject with a fitting mixture of objective analysis and emotion, never forgetting her main goal: to illuminate the darkness surrounding suicide so that we can better understand and prevent it. Jamison shows her empathy for those left behind in this passage:

“All of what our colleague said was true, however. Suicide is awful beyond expression for those who have to spend their lives with its reality. No one who is parent or child, a brother or a sister, a friend, a doctor or a patient would say otherwise. Most would agree with him that it is, on the face of it, a selfish act; most have yelled in their hearts, if not out loud, ‘How could you have done this to me?’ All have asked themselves over and over again, and then a thousand times beyond, Why? What could I have done differently? Why?

Just by writing this book Jamison acts as an inspiration, as she highlights how she, an attempt survivor, can benefit others as well as herself by contributing her time and knowledge to the topic of suicide. She examines multiple facets of suicide: its history, its connotations, its psychological implications, its biological underpinnings, and more. Redfield exhibits her research experience by going into specific detail within several areas, such as within the section about methods and through all of the well-known figures she includes, ranging from Meriwether Lewis to John Wilson. She incorporates personal letters and journals of those who have died by suicide, alongside statistics about suicide and ways to ensure the media portrays the issue with due sensitivity. A quote that stood out to me from the chapter about neurobiology and neuropathology:

“Alone, a single risk factor – either predisposing or precipitating – may only slightly increase the odds that an individual will kill himself. But some, such as a genetic or other biological predisposition, especially when coupled with a severe psychiatric disorder, are particularly ominous. When the threshold is set low from birth and the triggers kick in, the likelihood of suicide may become unstoppably high. A slight affront or loss may quickly create a flash point from a lethal mix of elements. It is as with fire: dry grass and high winds may remain, in themselves, only dangerous possibilities, elements of combustion. But if lightning falls across the grass, the chance of fire increases blindingly fast: it leaps from slim to given.”

Overall, a difficult, thorough, and worthwhile read I would recommend to anyone interested in the topic of suicide and feels that they stand in a healthful place of mind to engage with the subject. Jamison treats the issue with the seriousness it deserves, as well as the empathy it requires. She emerges as a brave and fierce voice, an educated champion shedding light on the issue of mental health, a matter that touches us all.



Filed under 5 stars, Book Reviews, Books

2 responses to “Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Kay Redfield Jamison

  1. You’ve done an excellent job of outlining some of the ways a masterful writer on a subject she knows intimately well works her craft. I ,too, am a survivor of a suicide attempt and when I sat down with this book, it simply hit too close to home. I think I’m ready to come back to it now.

  2. I read this book long ago; I’ve read a few of her other books too. She is one of a kind, brilliant and a great writer.

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