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294 of 309 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2005
In 2001, I hiked from Florida to Quebec with a group of five others, to raise money for a hunger charity. When we passed through Boston, a friend of mine loaned me this book.

This book is a history of suicide, written by someone who has been manic-depressive and suicidal. The history is well-researched, complex, extensive, and disturbing. At times, reading this book was like wrapping my mouth around the exhaust pipe of a truck, with clouds of soul-corroding blackness filling every corner of my being. The book just contains so much sadness and grief: the sadness of the depressed people who have taken their own lives...the grief of their families...and the seemingly unreconcilable wrongness of a world where these sort of things happen all the time.

When I read it, everything I read seemed to be about my older sister, LeeAnne. The descriptions of depression all seemed to be about her, about how she behaved and talked, and in all of the accounts, the depressed people then killed themselves, or tried to. They died, and were gone forever.

It terrified me, but I was relieved to have read this, and I felt like I'd read it just in time. Night fell fast, the other hikers and I made camp in a rainstorm in a dense, wet grove of trees in New Brunswick, Canada. I left my tent and gear to go find a payphone at the flooded parking lot of a nearby truckstop. I called my sister and left a message; I told her I loved her, and told I would call her back that week.

In hindsight, I should have called every hour of every day until I reached her. In hindsight, I should have called every family member and had them call her too.

Because, two days later, my sister was dead.

Dead from too many Ibuprofen and sleeping pills.

Dead for the rest of my life.

Dead forever.

This book is a warning, a thoroughly researched, scientifically and emotionally valid look at depression and suicide.

Anyone who has a depressed family member or friend needs to read this. So does anyone who has been depressed themselves--though maybe not while depressed, as it might give you ideas.

Your soul will darken for a while after reading this, but you will also become more aware. My family and I use to joke about how my sister was always so gloomy, but this book will show you that depression is not something to laugh about.

It's serious.

This book could save your life, or the life of someone you love...if you read it soon enough...if you act on what you've read. If you act now.
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169 of 179 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 1999
This was a wonderfully informative book to help people with mental illness and their families understand what is going on in the mind. It was very helpful to read when not depressed, but I question the safety of reading it if someone is seriously contemplating suicide. This book leaves nothing to the imagination of exactly how to kill yourself. It is very descriptive. It could not have been written by anyone who had not actually walked the halls of depression. I found it interesting that this person (Kay Readfield Jamison) was and is a mental health professional. I also find it interesting that she made a pact of no self harm with another professional and he was not able to keep that contract. She definately writes from the heart and did some pretty hair-raising research for this book.
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122 of 128 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 1999
I have read all of KRJ books. I felt that this book had some very good stories and some interesting statistics but I finished the book unsatisfied with what it said and what it could have said. As someone with bipolar, I have experienced the ups/downs/and over the edge feelings that go with the illness. I'm not sure that I know exactly what the book is missing but I definitely felt it was missing something. The only thing that really stands out for me is that the book was titled "understanding suicide". I finished the book feeling that the average person still would not have a good understanding of suicide after reading this book. I felt it was lacking in stating the true anguish that goes with attempting or committing suicide. Plenty of statistics but felt it would have been more useful with better explanations of how a person can actually get to the point of suicide. It left a lot of the actual "pain and suffering" of stories to what readers might think are the obvious answers. As a person with bipolar, so much may look obvious with suicide but much of it isn't. People don't kill themselves for reasons people usually think . . .bad grades, a broken relationship, etc. These things are all to easy and they are what the survivors want to think or are told by authorities. KRJ did not do a good enough job in explaning the anguished, almost poisonous feelings that take a person hostage that confuses right and wrong. I personally didn't want to die, didn't want to commit suicide. What I wanted was to make the anguish and hopelessness stop so I could live. With this illness, you are aware of all your feelings to a very extreme point, but you are frozen to helping yourself. I felt the author didn't really explain this part of the illness and this is the most important aspect if we want to understand and stop suicides.
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87 of 91 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 1999
Not since "The Savage God" by A. Alvarez has a book covered such a difficult subject with compassionate insight and personalized depth. Doctor Jamison writes about her own attempt at suicide due to continuing and maddening bouts with manic-depressive illness. She then continues and opens a window to allow the reader to observe the misconceptions and myths surrounding the issues of suicide. Her concerns and critiques on suicide are remarkably objective considering all she had to go through personally and professionally to write this book. It was also written with insight that transends personal experience, and written without judgement on those who have committed or attempted suicide. I would recommend that one read "The Unquiet Mind" first by Dr. Jamison in order to gain a insight into the background of "Night Falls Fast". To me, Dr. Jamison's books have dislodged my own misplaced notions of suicide and mental illness and have allowed me to understand that compassion and open-mindedness are strong allies that can be used to begin to rid the world of this terrible affliction.
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59 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 1999
This book isn't an easy read: some chapters are heavy on statistics, while her stories of people who committed suicide (ranging from the explorer Meriwether Lewis to some equally dashing contemporaries) are often painful to read. Still, it's a vitally important book for two reasons. In spite of the immense advances made in the mental health field in recent decades, the subject of suicide, and the depressive illnesses that precede it, is still surrounded by misinformation and veiled in shame. Jamison's courageous discussion of her own struggles with depression, and the information she assembles in this book, are helping to dispel some of the fog. In addition, as she points out, depressive illnesses are a major public health problem (especially in the young) and are often misdiagnosed and undertreated; removing the stigma and raising people's awareness of the prevalence of these illnesses are major steps towards solving the problem. As someone who went through several deeply depressed, suicidal phases in my teens, I know that the hardest part is the feeling of isolation: I believed that I was the only person who felt this way, so it must stem from something wrong with ME; but when I told the adults around me that I was depressed, they'd laugh and say I had no reason for it and was just being melodramatic, and that made me feel even more depressed. (The only reason I'm alive today is that, at my lowest times, I had no access to a sure-fire method of doing myself in.) If I'd known at the time that my problem was solvable and not at all unique, my teen years would have been considerably less agonized. My only quibble with the book is that she seems to argue that suicidal depression ALWAYS and ONLY results from physical causes, whereas I know of several cases (my own included) in which an individual's inborn tendency towards depressive thinking was aggravated into full-blown depression by his/her circumstances. Again, depression isn't an on/off switch -- there are degrees of depression, some amenable to a "talking cure" while others require medication -- and I feel she focuses too intensely on the latter, although, from her statistics, that seems to be the kind that often leads to suicide. But these are minor quibbles; in general, the book is convincing and rather scary, and I feel that everyone in the helping professions (from high school teachers to psychiatrists) should read it.
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67 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2001
It was a little over a month ago that I attempted to take my own life. In my recovery, I've found Dr. Jamison's study of the history and science behind suicide a great comfort. This is not a self-help book. However, it has helped me in gaining understanding behind the reasons why I did attempt suicide.
Dr. Jamison also brings to her writing a very personal understanding of the subject. A psychiatrist, she not only has dealt with suicide on a clinical level, but also a personal level. She herself attempted suicide as a young adult and has experienced depression, and she recounts her experience in dealing with a close friend who killed himself.
As noted in other reviews, there are many facts and statistics presented. This is important, as it dispels many myths regarding suicide, and brings attention to a true public health issue.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 1999
I read this book hoping to better understand the reasons behind suicide. This book answered many of these questions. I think the natural reaction of family members, especially children, is to feel rejected by the suicidal person. And suicide survivors spend the rest of their lives trying to understand how the suicide could have happened, and how to live with the conflicting emotions they feel as survivors. Jameson's descriptions of the psychic pain suffered by suicidal people helped me realize that my mother's numerous suicide attempts were not personal rejections of me. The stories Jameson presents of people were loved and who knew it, and who tried to overcome their depression but could not, helped me to understand just how compelling this type of mental illness is. I would suggest this book to anyone who has been touch by suicide. Perhaps it will help them drop some of the anger they may still feel toward the person who committed (or tried to commit) suicide. I must give the book only 3 stars though, because I felt like the writing wasn't "tight". Jameson repeats herself within each chapter and from chapter to chapter, reiterating facts that the stories illustrate on their own.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2005
Jamison writes from both the heart and the brain, so-to-speak. It is obvious that she empathizes with the suicidal and their families, on many levels.

She is quite knowledgeable when it comes to the studies using PET scans, MRIs, blood tests, etc. showing the role that neurotransmitters play in depression and possibly suicide. She also survived a suicide attempt. I would put more faith in what she has to say about the implication of youth suicide, about the feelings leading up to it, and the devastation experienced by the survivors, than I would in just any PhD.

She uses many statistics and studies, cites observations from Emil Krapelin and Robert Burton, and includes suicide notes left behind. This makes for a very interesting and in-depth read.

I don't recommend it for those who currently have suicidal ideations though. It is hard enough to stomach if you have personal experience with the subject, but to read it while dealing with your sorrows and SIs can be dangerous.

Overall: Great book. Thoroughly researched. Many examples and evidence to support thesis.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
This book provides a simple yet informative explanations of why, how, where, and when, a too large percentage of people take or have taken, their own lives. It is suitable for professionals and those of you who find suicide invades your private life for any reason, or if you are curious and enjoy understanding the wonder and extremes of your species.

Suicide is a topic that touches many peoples' lives. With depression and other disorders that carry with them a risk of suicide being so common, books like this are needed, to help those ill, and the people that love them. This book covers unsavoury topics, but it has to do so. Prof. Jamison skilfully steers clear of gratuitous gore, avoids prescribing suicide methods that will work, and yet remains honest about the horrors of suicide.

Whilst bearing in mind that this book can be upsetting if you are ill or still raw from losing someone, I would recommend it as a book to help, understand, and accept. It is always helpful to learn you are not alone in your pain.

On a personal note, this book helped me when suicidal and depressed. Despite the dark tone of the book, it gave me hope. It did not always stop me doing stupid or dangerous things (!) but often made it impossible for me to forget those people I would have left behind. For me, it was a protective book, carried everywhere, as a sign I was not alone.

A book not to be missed.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2000
I have always wanted to write a book on suicide. the deep dark details of the disease. From being high off cocaine and numb from alcohol, I've faced death by suicide actions three times. From being institutionalized for seven months and six months of chemical dependency treatment, I've yet to find anyone who understand this obsession with suicide. Numerous pyschiatrists have asked "why?", and I reply by because I wnated to die. Yet somehow this answer is not enough for their bigot minded theory of suicide, explained in medical terminology. Night Falls Fast has been the book I've been waiting for to give to friends and family to begin to understand my deepest darkest terrifying issue with suicide. From stealing a lethal dose of phenobarbital and slitting my risks, loved ones do not understand the reasoning behind my desire to end life personally. How could a yound man, 23, college graduate (BSN), successful nurse wanna end what could be a very prosperous and satisfying life? Afer reading Jamison's book in three days after it was released, I'm now able to explain my disease by giving loved ones or not my second and third copy to read and find some answers to my illness. Thank you, Dr. Jamison for the book, it is one that will never collect dust.
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