“All the Things We Never Knew”: The Impact of Suicide

This book is for every caregiver who wanders onto Google in the middle of the night typing, ‘depression,’ ‘bipolar,’ or ‘suicide.’ It is for every family member or friend of one of the estimated 41,000 Americans who take their lives every year. Sheila Hamilton, author of All the Things We Never Knew

The husband of Sheila Hamilton, a well known radio talk show host, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder only six weeks before he took his own life. All the Things We Never Knew: Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness is Hamilton’s new book—part memoir and part guidebook for those in need of help and support.

Kirkus Reviews summarizes the unraveling:

Just as she found the courage to finally seek a divorce, David’s condition worsened, and he was hospitalized. But medications only seemed to compound her husband’s problems, and his newly diagnosed bipolar disorder caused him to deteriorate rapidly. During this period, Hamilton learned that David was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and that a divorce from him would cost her everything she had worked for. Before she could take further action, however, David committed suicide, leaving both his wife and child ‘without so much as a note to understand his decision.’

“Mental Illness often masks itself as selfish, anti-social behavior. It waxes and wanes, especially in higher functioning people,” Hamilton writes (Huffington Post).

She has held herself partially responsible for overlooking some things or for not seeing enough of what was truly happening, and this has been part of her grief process. “I’d propose one more stage of grief to Kubler-Ross’s list in the case of suicide; forgiveness…In accepting responsibility for my part in David’s death, I was able to understand his sense of futility, the level of his psychic pain, and his unwillingness to face his illness. I forgave him. I forgave myself. And in doing so, I’ve been better able to understand his decision.”

What about the role of our medical and mental health systems? In an interview with Hamilton (Good Men Project), Jesse Kornbluth raises a pressing question:

…Patients with depressive and manic depressive illness are more likely to commit suicide than patients in any other medical or psychiatric risk group — their mortality rate is higher than it is for most types of heart disease and cancer. More people die of suicide than car accidents. Given that, why do doctors downplay the dangers of these mental illnesses?

The gist of Hamilton’s response: “It may simply be a result of not paying enough attention to the failures. There’s very little tracking of the short- or long-term outcomes of people treated in most of America’s psychiatric centers. There’s very little accountability, or learning from the losses.”

Some of the lessons she wants to impart in All the Things We Never Knew:

I would tell that person that recovery is possible. I would also say that if he or she feels stuck in a relationship with a psychiatrist or psychologist who doesn’t believe in the tenets of recovery, they should find a new team of doctors, and would encourage the person to find a team that looks beyond the pharmaceutical approach to healing. For the last decade, the psychiatric profession has relied far too heavily on drugs, while most other industrialized nations are looking at a more holistic approach.

Kevin Hines, mental health speaker and activist, reviewing All the Things We Never Knew: “…one of the most candid, heart-wrenching, and deeply moving accounts of the wake of destruction caused by the suicide of a loved one. Her book reminds us of those we’ve lost to suicide. The book casts the dark shadow that is depression, then rises from such darkness, reminding us to ‘Look to the living, love them, and hold on.’ Finally, it gives survivors tremendous resolve to continue in their quest for prevention.”

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