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Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide Paperback – October 10, 2000

4.4 out of 5 stars 158 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Suicide is a particularly awful way to die: the mental suffering leading up to it is usually prolonged, intense, and unpalliated," writes Kay Redfield Jamison. "There is no morphine equivalent to ease the acute pain, and death not uncommonly is violent and grisly." Jamison has studied manic-depressive illness and suicide both professionally--and personally. She first planned her own suicide at 17; she attempted to carry it out at 28. Now professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, she explores the complex psychology of suicide, especially in people younger than 40: why it occurs, why it is one of our most significant health problems, and how it can be prevented. Jamison discusses manic-depression, suicide in different cultures and eras, suicide notes (they "promise more than they deliver"), methods, preventive treatments, and the devastating effects on loved ones. She explores what type of person commits suicide, and why, and when. She illustrates her points with detailed anecdotes about people who have attempted or committed suicide, some famous, some ordinary, many of them young. Not easy reading, either in subject or style, but you'll understand suicide better and be jolted by the intensity of depression that drives young people to it. --Joan Price --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Providing historical, scientific and other helpful material on suicide, Jamison (An Unquiet Mind), a Johns Hopkins psychiatry professor, makes an excellent contribution to public understanding with this accessible and objective book. There is, she asserts, a suicide every 17 minutes in this country. Identifying suicide as an often preventable medical and social problem, Jamison focuses attention on those under 40 (suicides by those who are older often have different motivations or causes). Citing research that suicide is most common in individuals with mental illness (diagnosed or not), particularly depression and manic depression, she clearly describes the role of hormones and neurotransmitters as well as potential therapies, including lithium and other antidepressants. Jamison presents fascinating facts about suicide in families and in twins, gender disparities, and the impact of the seasons and times of day. She also provides poignant portraits of those who have committed suicideAfrom the explorer Meriwether Lewis to a high-achieving Air Force Academy graduateAas well as stories from her own experience. Historical perspective on how different societies have viewed suicide gives context, especially on methods and common locales (in the U.S., San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge is the most popular spot). Critical of her profession for not recognizing suicidal tendencies more readily, Jamison scolds the media and firearms industry as well. The book effectively brings suicide out of the closet, gives general readers insight into symptoms and should increase national awareness of the problem. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (October 10, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375701478
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375701474
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 2.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (158 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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.
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By A Customer on December 22, 1999
Format: Hardcover
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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By A Customer on December 11, 1999
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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