Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, with an average of 132 suicides per day and over 1.6 million attempts per year.
Falling within the middle of September (dubbed National Suicide Prevention Month by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) September 10 marks the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Week. While suicide prevention is important every day of the year, this week and month mark a moment dedicated to creating awareness and inspiring people to learn how they can play a role in their communities to help save lives.
According to the AFSP, one of the most important things a person can do is allow for open and honest conversations surrounding mental health and suicide.
In this spirit, we have assembled a list of 11 memoirs from those brought to the brink of despair, who have faced great obstacles in overcoming mental illnesses and emerged triumphant. We hope their voices will reach those facing similar hardships and remind them that life is worth living.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, help is available. Call or text 988 to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and speak with someone now.
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Midnight Library comes a story about making the most of your time here on Earth. At 24 years old, Matt Haig’s world fell apart, and he could see no way to go on living. Haig recounts the story of how he came through crisis and learned how to live again. With the help of reading, writing and the love of those around him, he learned how to live better, love better and feel more alive, all the while adamantly proclaiming that the oldest cliché is the truest — there is light at the end of the tunnel.
How Not to Kill Yourself: A Portrait of the Suicidal Mind by Clancy Martin
Clancy Martin attempted suicide over ten times throughout his life. Like the vast majority of suicides, these instances did not just come out of the blue but arose from a series of long-standing issues. How Not to Kill Yourself chronicles these multiple attempts and the self-destructive mindset behind them. A masterful blend of memoir, philosophy and critical inquiry, this intimate and often humorous examination of why the thought of death is so compulsive for some people, continuously reiterates that there’s always another solution.
Choosing Life by Blue Andrews
Andrews appeared to have it all — but he still found himself alone and depressed, and he soon began to drown his sorrows in alcohol. After waking up in the psych unit of a hospital with fourteen stitches on his wrists, Andrews came to an important decision — he wanted to live. This is the story of how he arrived at that conclusion and his ensuing journey toward health, contentment and self-discovery. He recounts his battles with grief, alcoholism and depression, while also giving readers guidance on finding the strength and support to endure. (Read the full BookTrib review and interview.)
Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Sophie’s Choice comes a breathtaking memoir about crippling depression and his struggle for recovery. Caught in the unyielding grip of depression, Styron became numbed to the world around him. His struggles with disaffection, apathy and despair nearly drove him to suicide, leading him to seek hospitalization before the darkness completely consumed him. Darkness Visible lays bare the raw realities of clinical depression, a disease that had claimed so many great writers before him. His message for all those who suffer from mental illness: it is possible to emerge from the deepest abyss and “once again behold the stars.”
LifeLines by Melissa Bernstein
Melissa Bernstein, the creative genius and co-founder of Melissa & Doug Toy Company, has been struggling with existential depression and anxiety her entire life. She was denying her despair, hiding it from the world and suppressing her overwhelmingly negative feelings and thoughts that were leading her to the brink of self-destruction. In LifeLines, Melissa opens up and shares all that she has experienced, the challenges she has faced, and her hopes for the future. (Check out her BookTrib interview.)
The Noonday Demon: An Atlas Of Depression by Andrew Solomon
This National Book Award-winning, bestselling and transformative masterpiece examines depression from a number of angles — personal, cultural and scientific. Drawing on his own struggles with the illness and interviews with fellow sufferers and experts alike — including scientists, policymakers, drug designers and philosophers — Solomon reveals the subtle complexities and sheer agony of the disease as well as the reasons for hope. The Noonday Demon brings new clarity to the realities of depression, toppling previous stigmas and shining new light on mental illness.
American Airman by Jonathon Benjamin
A memoir that pulls back the curtain on veteran suicide and mental illness. Emotional manipulation, mental distress and a traumatic brain injury forced Benjamin to retire early from the US Air Force. He struggled with suicidal ideation for several years — but he remained determined to make a difference in the world. American Airman will certainly appeal to those who have sacrificed to serve their country and community, but also to anybody who has faced immense challenges to find meaning and direction in life. (Read the full BookTrib review.)
Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me by Anna Mehler Paperny
An engrossing combination of memoir and investigative reporting that takes a frank look at how our society treats depression. After a suicide attempt in her early twenties, Paperny put her reporter skills to use in digging up anything and everything she could about depression. This book is the result of that research, including comparisons of competing schools of therapy and medical treatment, institutional shortcomings, and interviews with medical experts and fellow sufferers. More than just examining the ways we treat (and fail to treat) depression, Paperny crafts a story about the power and durability of the human spirit.
Committed: A Memoir of Madness in the Family by Paolina Milana
Committed offers readers an epistolary snapshot of one young woman’s twenties as she confronts tragic loss in a world of overwhelming madness. With plans to attend an out-of-state university, Paolina is desperate to live a “normal” life alongside her peers. She keeps her family issues secret all the while fearing that she’ll inherit her mother’s schizophrenia. When her father’s unexpected death leaves Paolina in the position of primary caregiver to her mother, it seems as if the worst has come to pass. But then her younger sister’s psychotic break drops Paolina into new depths of despair — where she nearly loses herself to the darkness. (Check out her BookTrib interview.)
Depression Hates a Moving Target by Nita Sweeney
Winner of the Maxwell Medallion for excellence in writing, Sweeney’s memoir relates a story of tenacity and emotional rebirth in the face of depression, and the powerful bond between a woman and her dog. Sweeney was 49 years old and struggling with chronic depression (and occasional manic episodes) when she discovered a new form of therapy: running. With the help of her canine companion, she worked towards competing in her first marathon, overcoming the emotional challenges that brought her to the brink and discovering an inner strength she didn’t know she possessed.
Before I Leave You: A Memoir on Suicide, Addiction, and Healing by Robert Imbeault
When the trauma of childhood abuse catches up with him, Imbeault begins a suicidal dance with drugs and alcohol. After a series of rock bottoms hidden within the darker side of Las Vegas, he couldn’t see his life getting any better. But through self-discipline, self-love and small steps forward (and a few steps back), he transformed his life into one filled with gratitude and joy. On his road to recovery, he learned the power of forgiveness and its crucial role in growing to love himself. His raw and honest portrayal of pain, growth and new life will surely inspire.