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New book investigates why some humans want to kill themselves

Clocktower from the Leith

Friday, 21 September 2018

Jesse Bering image
Associate Professor Jesse Bering

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, Associate Professor 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,” Associate Professor Bering says.

For example, to show how specific cognitive factors (such as an altered sense of time) afflict the suicidal mind, Associate Professor 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 Associate Professor 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.

A Very Human Ending synopsis:

'This book touches on some deep questions relevant to us all... A fascinating, thoughtful, unflinching meditation on one of the most intriguing and curious aspects of the human condition.' - Dr Frank Tallis

Why do people want to kill themselves? Despite the prevalence of suicide in the developed world, it's a question most of us fail to ask. On hearing news of a suicide we are devastated, but overwhelmingly we feel disbelief.

In A Very Human Ending, research psychologist Jesse Bering lifts the lid on this taboo subject, examining the suicidal mindset from the inside out to reveal the subtle tricks the mind can play when we're easy emotional prey. In raising challenging questions Bering tests our contradictory superstitions about the act itself.

Combining cutting-edge research with investigative journalism and first-person testimony, Bering also addresses the history of suicide and its evolutionary inheritance to offer a personal, accessible, yet scientifically sound examination of why we are the only species on earth that deliberately ends its own life.

This penetrating analysis aims to demystify a subject that knows no cultural or demographic boundaries. Read more

Where to find help and support:

  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • 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)

For more information, contact:

Associate Professor Jesse Bering
Centre for Science Communication
University of Otago
Tel 03 471 6147
Email jesse.bering@otago.ac.nz

Mark Hathaway
Senior Communications Adviser
University of Otago
Mob 021 279 5016
Email mark.hathaway@otago.ac.nz

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