cover image Suicidal: Why We Kill Ourselves

Suicidal: Why We Kill Ourselves

Jesse Bering. Univ. of Chicago, $27.50 (272p) ISBN 978-0-226-46332-2

Bering (Perv), a psychologist, carefully balances his natural whimsy and avid curiosity with deep compassion in this look at how suicidal urges work. He is disarmingly frank in disclosing his own identity as “that everyday person dealing with suicidal thoughts,” which “flare up like a sore tooth.” The book focuses on the idea that humans are “thinking, almost constantly, about what others think,” leading to emotions such as shame even among the objectively successful. Bering gets lost in an intellectual ramble through suicide’s possible evolutionary purpose, but gets back on course with a discussion with 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. He also 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. Throughout, Bering treats his sources with unvarying respect, as well as a spirit of affiliation. Readers who have experienced the anguish of suicidal impulses will find his work both heartening and deeply illuminating. (Nov.)