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Book investigates why some humans want to kill themselves

New book investigates why some humans want to kill themselves

University of Otago research psychologist Jesse Bering has explored the dark experiences of being suicidal, in his new book: A very human ending, how suicide haunts our species.

Associate Professor Bering, Director of Otago’s Centre for Science Communication, says in writing the book on this sensitive subject, his intention was to capture the experience of being suicidal.

“This is not a book about suicide prevention, per se. It is about understanding the mind-set of a suicidal person, and ideally helping people gain self-perspective of what can be incredibly grim experiences and thoughts, before acting on them,” says Associate Professor Bering.

At times drawing on first-person testimony involving his own suicidal thoughts as a teenager, Bering also combines analysis from interviews with experts and case studies with an array of people who have been suicidal.

“I think for someone affected by suicidal thoughts, this book can figuratively ‘hold their hand’ through those dark times, and hopefully provide knowledge and understanding around the processes going on in their brain. If people can be better equipped to understand and deal with these thoughts, then hopefully they’re less likely to choose the last resort – suicide,” Prof Bering says.

For example, to show how specific cognitive factors (such as an altered sense of time) afflict the suicidal mind, Bering shares in the book excerpts from the many heartrending emails he received from readers in response to a 2010 article he wrote for Scientific American.

One of the major concerns Bering had in choosing to write and publish A Very Human Ending was the issue of contagion – the notion that talking about suicide can prompt people to consider it as an option. Bering dedicated an entire chapter of the book to contagion, and feels it is better to talk about and try to understand suicide instead of locking away rational discussion about it.

“My stance is that if people are aware of how contagion works, when they find themselves in a dark place they will be better equipped to deal with the processes that are going on in their mind,” he adds.

A Very Human Ending was published by Penguin Random House publishers on 23 August 2018, with first release into the United Kingdom and the US release (University of Chicago Press) planned for November 2018. The synopsis of the book is below.

Where to find help and support:

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Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat

Samaritans - 0800 726 666

Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757

Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)


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