Thoughts on Night Falls Fast by Kay Redfield Jamison

I just finished reading Night Fall Fast, written by Kay Redfield Jamison.  If you want a read that is both interesting and painful at times, this is your book.  Night Falls Fast is a look at suicide from many different angles.

I could summarize what this book is about, but that can easily be discovered through the table of contents.  Let me instead share what this book meant to me and why I think it is an important read for anyone who cares to understand the silent epidemic of suicide.

I learned about this book a few months ago, and ordered a used copy from Amazon long before reading it.  I wanted to make sure that my mental health was in a good place while reading such a dense book on a topic that I know intimately.

I typically read one book at a time, but with this book, I decided to read a light fiction book alongside it.  This decision was made when not far into the book, I mentioned to my therapist what I was reading.  She immediately knew what book I was talking about and said that when she read it, she needed frequent breaks, she advised that I be aware of what my emotions told me as I was reading.

With the warning in mind, I read through Night Falls Fast slowly.  While I read I often stopped for a moment to share with my husband something I had just learned.  For example: “The relations between suicide attempts and suicide is murky.  There are an estimated ten to twenty-five suicide attempts for every completed suicide.  And many, if not most, people who attempt to kill themselves do so more than once.”

One of the many parts of the book that I found fascinating was that Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark committed suicide.  Jamison explained that Lewis’ death by suicide is something that is hotly debated, mainly because people have trouble wrapping their minds around someone being a hero and having died by suicide.  I personally believe someone can certainly be a hero and have a mental illness which leads, eventually, to suicide.  President Jefferson, as well as Will Clark (the Clark in Lewis and Clark), both were close friends with Lewis and both believed, having known Lewis well for many years, that Lewis had indeed committed suicide.

What I found most disturbing about Night Falls Fast was that I did not find it disturbing.  Maybe because I myself have felt suicidal, or perhaps because I know many people who themselves have felt that way; whose stories I carry with me.  I knew, going into this book, that suicide was more prevalent than what is popularly believed and that it is seriously and dangerously not considered a problem in society.  I empathize with and feel it is awful that those mentioned in the book, either by name or as a part of a larger statistic died by choice.  What I feel is a larger tragedy, though, is that this book was written in 1999, and just under two decades later, resources are still too scarce, especially in rural areas.

There needs to be more resources for those who are suffering with mental illness.  There also needs to be less of a stigma associated with mental illness, so that the resources that do exist are more freely utilized.  Many people do not need to die, they just don’t see another choice.

I loved the way that Jamison described her thoughts when contemplating suicide years ago,

“It was simply the end of what I could bear, the last afternoon of having to imagine waking up the next morning only to start all over again with a thick mind and black imaginings.  It was the final outcome to a bad disease, a disease it seemed to me I would never get the better of.  No amount of love from or for other people – and there was a lot – could help … I knew my life to be a shambles, and I believed – incontestably – that my family, friends, and patients would be better off without me.  There wasn’t much of me left anymore, anyway, and I thought my death would free up the wasted energies and well-meant efforts that were being wasted in my behalf.”

Jamison survived her suicide attempt and went on to write this and many other books.  The feeling of hopelessness she described can be hard to fight through.  I find it rather inspirational to see what Jamison has gone on and done with her life since being in such a painful mindset.

If you have the opportunity to do so, you should read Night Falls Fast.  Just be sure to do so with caution and care for our own mental health along the way.

If you are thinking about suicide, please seek help, resources are available, and someone feels hopeful for you, even when you can’t muster that hope for yourself.


Edit: The day this post came out, I learned about a school in Ohio where in the last six months, six teenage students committed suicide.  They used varying methods, but as I learned in this book and others, suicide can have a contagious factor, especially in adolescents.  It is important that we recognize this as a danger and work as a society to save lives.  To learn more about this tragedy, click here.


  1. Have heard of this book. Think I didn’t have the guts to read it. Taking it smaller doses seems like a good idea. An Unquiet Mind was the first book I read after bipolar dx. I heard her speak at a convention a few years later and she seemed very real. When I read that edit knew when it said Ohio where it’s happened. My best friend who also has bipolar lives very near that town and had been telling me about it for several months. From what she’s told me the reasons for a couple of the suicides bullying was a factor. Bullying is something that just outrages me. For 7 years of my school life it was a very big factor. I wore out 2 copies of Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence during first 2 years of high school. 2 songs on the album are about suicide. The songs didn’t trigger me to do it. I never tried but started cutting at 14. I realize now that borderline had been an issue by age 8 when the bullying started. I’ve always said the child that left second grade was not the one that entered third. Over that summer I had been sexually abused. It got to the point I just couldn’t take it anymore and went to my parents. My mother to this day does not believe I was abused. She has emotionally abused me my whole life and finally at 62 have gotten her and my older sister out of my life. Bullying was a way my mother abused me, constantly telling me I was stupid and incapable of anything. I grew up not believing in myself. I understand too well the pain that drives these kids to end their lives. 5 years ago I was going through so much pain I chose death as it seemed the only way to get out of a very messed up life. It was my third attempt in a 9 year period. I had never tried till I was 47. For years my life was pretty good but after divorce I ended up back in my family’s noose. Being abused and bullied again and a lot of that pain was from not knowing how to end the cycle. Just never knew how to stand up for myself. It’s not a cry for attention, it’s just the pain of living is too much. I’ll never know how I survived. It was 18 hours later when ironically my mother found me. I know I died but was pushed back. After coming too I realized their must be a purpose of still being here. I chose to live and spent 4 years in group and therapy. I still get that pain sometimes but just can’t go there. That’s one you can’t come back from. Even an attempt can mean death. Teen suicide is so horrendous. Parents need to listen to what their kids actually do say. I think their usually is a cry for help but people don’t hear. They don’t want too. Kids in their teens are more susceptible because they go with their impulses fast. Peer pressure can turn in to bullying and the scars do remain. Sorry to be so long but these have become 2 big issues I’m working with.


    • The book can be triggering, but is very interesting. I’m glad you survived and keep on going. I agree that suicide is often not just a cry for attention. Even if it is for someone, the results can be the same either way. Thank you for reading and commenting.


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