I’ve just finished reading Kay Redfield Jamison’s book Night Falls Fast (ISBN 0375701478), a remarkably sensitive exploration of the difficult subject of suicide.
Unlike Jamison’s better known books, An Unquiet Mind and Touched with Fire, you rarely see it in bookshops.
It’s probably her least successful book, not least, I suspect, because of the subject matter. Nevertheless, I think it’s her best and most important.
Jamison is one of the world’s leading researchers into manic depression and has the condition herself. As a result, she’s experienced periods of intense psychosis and made a near-fatal suicide attempt.
Originally, the term ‘manic depression’ was coined to describe the whole spectrum of mood disorders, but is often used these days to refer to bipolar disorder, where mood cycles between crushing depression and exuberant, or even psychotic, highs.
The name ‘bipolar’ is a bit misleading, as it suggests that mood is either high or low, when in fact it is possible to feel wired and depressed at the same time – a so-called ‘mixed state’.
These ‘mixed states’ are particularly dangerous and are perhaps one of the reasons that bipolar disorder is one of the leading causes of suicide.
It’s by no means the only cause, however, and there are a range of factors that make suicide among the top 10 causes of death in every country, and one of the three leading worldwide causes of death in the 15 to 35-year age group.
Jamison’s book is not only a comprehensive exploration of the psychology and neuroscience of suicide, but also weaves in insights from the arts and literature, as well as personal stories of suicides and their impact.
The book is emotionally difficult at times, and I often found myself having to pause and reflect mid-paragraph, but it does an admirable job of demystifying and discussing a subject that is woefully ignored in public life.
The New York Times has a brief excerpt and Jamison was interviewed about the book on the Charlie Rose show, the video of which is available online.
Link to book details.
Link to factsheet on suicide from mental health charity Mind.
Link to video of Kay Redfield Jamison interview.
Link to excerpt of Night Falls Fast.