By Tana Nash, CASP Executive Director
You might think, summer reading, really, why would I want to read any of these heavy books during my summer vacation? I just want to grab an easy book and a glass of wine and escape. Well, I can relate to both of these feelings.
When I lost my sister to suicide, I felt compelled to read everything I could get my hands on – although I have had to go back and re-read many of these books because only so much sunk in at the time. I continue to read many books and learn about this topic. Not just because I have switched careers and now dedicate my working hours to suicide prevention, but because that is my personality.
If I am reading and investing my time, I want it to be worthwhile. My mother on the other hand, who visits the library every couple of weeks to stock up on books, finds she can’t read anything heavy and hasn’t since my sister’s suicide. She looks forward to her escape accompanied by a good glass of wine. I can also find myself not wanting something too in-depth to read and will also look forward to something more light and frivolous. Or maybe you find you can’t read at all right now, which is perfectly fine.
If you are searching for some books that may be helpful here are some suggestions:
Hands down, the number one book to read to gain a deeper understanding of suicide is:
Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide
By Kay Redfield Jamieson
An internationally acknowledged authority on depressive illnesses, Dr. Jamison has also known suicide firsthand: after years of struggling with manic-depression, she tried at age twenty-eight to kill herself. Weaving together a historical and scientific exploration of the subject with personal essays on individual suicides, she employs not only her remarkable compassion and literary skill, but also all of her knowledge and research to bear on this devastating problem. This is a book that helps us to understand the suicidal mind, to recognize and come to the aid of those at risk, and to comprehend the profound effects on those left behind. It is critical reading for parents, educators, and anyone wanting to understand this tragic epidemic.
I have read a number of books. A few that have resonated with me are:
Surviving Suicide: Help to Heal your Heart
By Heather Hays
Days after her fiancé’s suicide, award-winning journalist Heather Hays was back on television, hiding her pain from her viewers and herself. She is no longer hiding. In this book, Hays shares life-changing stories from people around the world who have also been left behind. Through them, you will learn lessons on love and loss to help guide you on your journey.
History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life
By Jill Bialosky
This may have resonated with me since I lost my sister, but I felt it was well-written and provided good perspectives.
For twenty years, Bialosky has lived with the grief, guilt, questions, and confusion unleashed by Kim’s suicide. Now, in a remarkable work of literary nonfiction, she re-creates with unsparing honesty her sister’s inner life, the events and emotions that led her to take her life on this particular night. In doing so, she opens a window on the nature of suicide itself, our own reactions and responses to it – especially the impact a suicide has on those who remain behind.
This activity book for kids is also very helpful:
After a Suicide Death
By Dougy Centre for Grieving Children
In this hands-on, interactive workbook, children who have been exposed to a suicide can learn from other grieving kids. The workbook includes drawing activities, puzzles, stories, advice from other kids and helpful suggestions for how to navigate the grief process after a suicide death.
Struggling with Suicidal Thoughts
For those struggling with suicidal thoughts and those supporting them, these books have resonated with suicide attempt survivors:
Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws
By Kate Bornstein
A one-of-a-kind guide to staying alive outside the box, Hello, Cruel World is a much-needed unconventional approach to life for those who want to stay on the edge, but alive.
Hello, Cruel World features a catalog of 101 alternatives to suicide that range from the playful to the irreverent, to the highly controversial.
Choosing to Live
By Thomas E. Ellis and Cory Frank Newman
This easy-to-read book offers straightforward and helpful suggestions for anyone who has contemplated suicide and/or anyone with a suicidal loved one. It can help suicidal people understand their suffering while they take charge of their own healing.
How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me: One Person’s Guide to Suicide Prevention
By Susan Rose Blauner
Part memoir and part survival guide, “How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me” aims to provide practical and immediate advice for those who are contemplating suicide but genuinely do not wish to die. It offers a wealth of information, both for suicidal individuals and their loved ones, and should serve as a source of comfort and hope to all those affected by suicide.
Of course, some of our best suicide prevention efforts include not talking about suicide itself and focusing on building resiliency and what are known as ‘upstream prevention methods’. If you are a parent, reading anything from Dr. Michael Ungar is a must. He weaves storytelling into his practical advice, making it easy to read and applicable to everyday life. On his website is a listing of all his books. In particular, I really like this one:
To Safe For Their Own Good: How Risk and Responsibility Help Teens Thrive
By Michael Ungar, PH.D.
Internationally respected Canadian social worker and family therapist Michael Ungar tells us why our mania to keep our kids safe is causing us to do the opposite: put them in harm’s way. By continuing to protect them from failure and disappointment, many of our kids are missing out on the “risk-taker’s advantage,” the benefits that come from experiencing manageable amounts of danger. In “Too Safe for Their Own Good,” Ungar inspires parents to recall their own childhoods and the lessons they learned from being risk-takers and responsibility-seekers, much to the annoyance of their own parents. He offers the support parents need in setting appropriate limits and provides concrete suggestions for allowing children the opportunity to experience the rites of passage that will help them become competent, happy, thriving adults.
And this is a fun book for young kids with an important message:
How full is your bucket? For Kids
By Tom Rath, and Mary Reckmeyer
Through the story of a little boy named Felix, this charming book explains to children how being kind not only helps others, it helps them, too. As he goes about his day, Felix interacts with different people – his sister Anna, his grandfather, other family and friends. Some people are happy, but others are grumpy or sad. Using the metaphor of a bucket and dipper, Felix’s grandfather explains why the happy people make Felix feel good, while the others leave him feeling bad – and how Felix himself is affecting others, whether he means to or not.
If you are looking for some great information, education and help, but need it in smaller doses, here are three magazines I highly recommend:
Moods – this Canadian-based magazine is full of inspirational stories of recovery and resilience, practical tips and ideas and each year dedicates one whole issue to workplace mental health. It is available at local book stores and Chapters/Indigo, but better yet, you can subscribe.
“Moods” is a national publication, providing educational information to everyone. Celebrity success stories, healthy living, and good nutrition are just some of the regular topics. “Moods” emphasizes preventative measures, while also diminishing the stigma attached to mental illness.
BP – if you have bi-polar or are supporting someone struggling with bi-polar, this is the most comprehensive, practical, informative magazine on this mood disorder. Subscribe today, you won’t be disappointed. www.bphope.com/
Mindful – This magazine is easy to pick up, flip through, read small bite-sized articles that are jammed pack with good information for everyday living. For example, recent articles include: “Say it with Skill: 3 Practices for Better Communication,” tips to improve your workplace balance, how to snap out of autopilot and get in touch with your body. Don’t believe me, check out their website at www.mindful.org/magazine/
Of course, there are many great books and magazines out there. Have a favourite or one you would recommend to the suicide prevention community? Please share it with us. With increased knowledge, all of us can make a difference. Happy reading!