Night Falls Fast

Night Falls Fast

Night Falls Fast

Jamieson, Kay Redfield






From the author of the best-selling memoir An Unquiet Mind, comes the first major book in a quarter century on suicide, and its terrible pull on the young in particular. Night Falls Fast is tragically timely: suicide has become one of the most common killers of Americans between the ages of fifteen and forty-five.

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 brings 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.


The New York Times

Kay REDFIELD Jamison’s first publications were scientific papers and a massive textbook, and her writings for a more popular audience cleave to clean research standards even as they indulge the literary and the personal. ”An Unquiet Mind,” her meditation on manic-depressive illness, eloquently describes a disease that is primarily biological in its origins. The book combines clinical data with confessional prose to evoke both horror and insight. ”Touched With Fire” addresses the evolutionary questions around mental illness, and shows the flip side of that horror: inspired imagination and joyful creativity. ”Night Falls Fast” braves the impossible topic of suicide. It is at once the most relentless and the most sympathetic book she has produced, written with an edifying urgency that surpasses her previous volumes.

Jamison persuasively uses numbers to demonstrate that suicide is a vast public health crisis that makes us so uncomfortable that we willfully divert our attention from it. Every 17 minutes, she reports, someone in the United States commits suicide. Suicide ranks No. 3 among causes of death for young people generally, and it is No. 2 for college students. In 1995 (for example) more young people died of suicide than of AIDS, cancer, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, birth defects and heart disease combined. During the period from 1987 to 1996, more men under 35 died of suicide than of AIDS. Half a million Americans are taken to hospitals every year because of suicide attempts. Suicide was, according to the World Health Organization, responsible for almost 2 percent of deaths worldwide in 1998, which puts it well ahead of war and way ahead of homicide. And the rate of suicide is climbing steadily. One recent study showed that within its geographic area, the likelihood of a young man committing suicide has increased by 260 percent since the 1950’s. Half of those with manic-depressive illness will make a suicide attempt; one in five people with major depression will do the same. Read more…


Suicide rates for Americans under 40, the cohort on which this book focuses, have tripled in the past 45 years. Although it makes no attempt to explain why this is so, this is a superb interdisciplinary look at self-murder. Janison (Psychiatry/Johns Hopkins School of Medicine), author of the bestselling memoir An Unquiet Mind (1995) about her own struggle with manic-depressive illness, here looks at suicide through literary, historical, anthropological, psychological, biochemical, genetic, and epidemiological lenses. She emphasizes the highly disproportionate suicide rates among those suffering from the major mental and mood disorders of depression, manic-depression, and schizophrenia. Jamison also notes a continuum running from risk-taking behavior to suicidal thoughts to actually killing oneself and notes that while approximately 30,000 Americans commit suicide each year, 500,000 attempt to do so (“Ambivalence saturates the suicidal act,” she writes). With much interesting anecdotal material and data from the vast scientific literature on suicide, Jamison ranges far and wide over such topics as suicide notes, national styles in killing oneself (the Germans favor hanging, while in the US, guns are used in about 60 percent of suicides), and seasonal factors (contrary to popular belief, most suicides take place not during winter but during the late spring and summer). Her study is also greatly enhanced by several essays, in which Jamison delves into the suicide of noteworthy people. She writes particularly insightfully on the difficulty of predicting suicidal behavior and on the sensibility of the suicide, who usually lives with an anguished “sense of the unmanageable, of hopelessness, of invasive negativity about the future.” Although her data on suicide sometimes seem overwhelming and a few individual statistics a bit loose, Jamison’s book generally is a very well written, substantial, and consistently interesting study of a wrenching existential and societal problem that has reached epidemic proportions.

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.


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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Barnes & Noble

As someone who struggles with ‘the Night’ daily, this book offered a solid base of well researched highly compassionate information. I agree with other reviewers that dangerously suicidal individuals should wait until feeling healthier before attempting this read. Personally I feel like I am ‘one up’ on suicide after finishing Dr. Jamison’s book. As I fight to keep from destroying myself from within, my logical mind can return to what I have learned in this profound volume in order to combat some of the irrationalities. Thank You, Dr. Jamison.

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