“Suicidal”: Jesse Bering Analyzes Why

Just yesterday there were multiple variations seen of this headline: “U.S. Life Expectancy Continues To Fall As Overdose And Suicide Rates Soar” (HuffPost). Such news highlights the importance of New Zealand psychologist Jesse Bering‘s timely book Suicidal: Why We Kill Ourselves, which, according to various reviewers, has been written in a uniquely approachable way.

Notably a survivor himself of an ongoing battle with suicidal ideation, Bering “knows that sometimes the most effective response to our darkest moments is a gentle humor, one that, while not denying the seriousness of suffering, at the same time acknowledges our complicated, flawed, and yet precious existence” (publisher’s blurb).

Bering’s earlier articles, e.g., his 2010 “What It Feels Like to Want to Kill Yourself” and “Why Do More Men Than Women Kill Themselves” (both in Scientific American), also shed light on the topic, including his personal struggles.

His own background, as summarized by Michael Shermer, Scientific American, involved having been “a closeted teenager,” for one, and later unemployment as an academic, for another:

Yet most oppressed gays and fallen academics don’t want to kill themselves. ‘In the vast majority of cases, people kill themselves because of other people,’ Bering adduces. ‘Social problems—especially a hypervigilant concern with what others think or will think of us if only they knew what we perceive to be some unpalatable truth—stoke a deadly fire.’

One of the various reasons people consider or commit suicide is depression, of course, but “most people suffering from depression do not kill themselves (only about 5 percent Bering says), and not all suicide victims were depressed.” Genetics and environmental factors can also play a large part in one’s desire to stop living.

Kirkus Reviews:Bering concedes that having dark impulses is more commonplace than people would like to believe, and he highlights theories held by neuropsychiatrists and suicidologists who have isolated a specific neuron possibly responsible for suicidal intent.”

A major focus of Bering’s Suicidal, adds Publishers Weekly, is the work of social psychologist Roy Baumeister, “who identifies a typical six-stage mental process, starting with feeling of having fallen short of expectations, and culminating with disinhibition. Bering’s deep reading of an extraordinary diary written by a teen in the four months before her suicide in the context of Baumeister’s framework is disturbing but highly enlightening.”

In addition, Bering’s Suicidal “details with concern modern factors in suicides, such as highly reported celebrity deaths, internet suicide pacts, and glamorized media depictions as in the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why.”

If you find yourself contemplating taking your own life, please consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

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