Depression
Resources

 email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
A Mood ApartA Sadly Troubled HistoryActive Treatment of DepressionAdolescent DepressionAdult Bipolar DisordersAgainst DepressionAgents in My BrainAmerican ManiaAmerican MelancholyAn Unquiet MindArtificial HappinessBeating the BluesBefore ProzacBeyond BlueBiological UnhappinessBipolar DisorderBipolar Disorder DemystifiedBipolar Disorder in Childhood and Early AdolescenceBipolar DisordersBipolar ExpeditionsBlaming the BrainBoy InterruptedBritain on the CouchCalm EnergyCase Studies in DepressionChange Your ThinkingChronic DepressionComprehending SuicideConquering Postpartum DepressionConquering the Beast WithinCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamageDepressionDepression 101Depression and GlobalizationDepression and NarrativeDepression Doesn't Always Have to Be DepressingDepression FalloutDepression in ContextDepression Is a ChoiceDepression SourcebookDepression, Emotion and the SelfDepression, the Mood DiseaseDepression-Free for LifeDetourDiagnostic Issues in Depression and Generalized Anxiety DisorderDown Came the RainDowning Street BluesDysthymia and the Spectrum of Chronic DepressionsEight Stories UpElectroboyElectroshockEssential Psychopharmacology of Depression and Bipolar DisorderExperiences of DepressionFacing BipolarFast GirlFatal AttachmentsGetting Your Life BackGod HeadHandbook of DepressionHandbook of DepressionHello to All ThatHelping Students Overcome Depression and AnxietyHow Everyone Became DepressedHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHurry Down SunshineI am Not Sick I Don't Need Help!Journeys with the Black DogLeaving YouLet Them Eat ProzacLife InterruptedLifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues--Level 1LifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues: Level 2Lifting DepressionLifting the WeightLincoln's MelancholyLiving Without Depression and Manic DepressionLong ShotLucy Sullivan Is Getting MarriedMadnessMaking Sense of SuicideMalignant SadnessManiaManicManic DepressionManufacturing DepressionMelancholiaMindfulness for Urban Depression: Tools for Relief from Stressful City LivingMindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for DepressionMood GenesMoody Minds DistemperedMy DepressionNatural Healing for DepressionNew Hope for Children and Teens with Bipolar DisorderNew Hope For People With Bipolar DisorderNew Hope for People with DepressionNight Falls FastNovember of the SoulOn DepressionOn the Edge of DarknessOne in ThirteenOrdinarily WellOut of the BlueOutsmarting DepressionOvercoming DepressionPerfect ChaosPotatoes Not ProzacProzac and the New AntidepressantsProzac BacklashProzac HighwayProzac NationProzac NationPsychotic DepressionPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuiet Your Mind & Get to SleepRaising a Moody ChildReasons to Stay AliveScattershotSelf-CoachingSightlinesSilencing the Self Across CulturesSilent GriefSongs from the Black ChairSongs Without WordsSpeaking of SadnessSpontaneous HappinessStudent DepressionSubordination and DefeatSuicidal Behavior in Children and AdolescentsSuicideSunbathing in the RainSurvival Strategies for Parenting Children with Bipolar DisorderSurviving Manic DepressionSwing LowSylvia Plath ReadsTalking Back to ProzacTaming Your Inner BratThe Aesthetics of DisengagementThe American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Mood DisordersThe Anatomy of MelancholyThe Anti-Depressant Fact BookThe Antidepressant EraThe Antidepressant SolutionThe Antidepressant Survival ProgramThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best AwfulThe Bipolar ChildThe Bipolar Disorder Survival GuideThe Blue Day BookThe Breakthrough Depression SolutionThe Clinical Science of Suicide PreventionThe CorrectionsThe Cruelty of DepressionThe Depressed ChildThe Depression CureThe Depression WorkbookThe Devil WithinThe Emotional RevolutionThe Family SilverThe Feeling Good HandbookThe Forgotten MournersThe Loss of SadnessThe Memory of LightThe Mindful Way through DepressionThe Mood CureThe Myth of Depression as DiseaseThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Nature of MelancholyThe Noonday DemonThe Pits and the PendulumThe Postpartum EffectThe Secret Strength of DepressionThe Van Gogh BluesThe Van Gogh BluesThe Weariness of the SelfThe Years of Silence are PastThirteen Reasons WhyThis Close to HappyTo Walk on EggshellsTreatment for Chronic DepressionUndercurrentsUnderstanding DepressionUnderstanding DepressionUndoing DepressionUnhappy TeenagersUnholy GhostUnstuckViniyoga Therapy for DepressionWhat Goes UpWhat the Birds SeeWhat Works for Bipolar KidsWhen a Parent is DepressedWhen Nothing Matters AnymoreWhen Someone You Love Is DepressedWhen Words Are Not EnoughWhen Your Body Gets the BluesWhere the Roots Reach for WaterWhy Are You So Sad?Why People Die by SuicideWill's ChoiceWriting Through the DarknessYou Are Not AloneZelda

Related Topics
Comprehending SuicideReview - Comprehending Suicide
Landmarks in 20Th-Century Suicidology
by Edwin S. Shneidman
American Psychological Association, 2001
Review by Peter B. Raabe Ph.D.
May 22nd 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 21)

Suicide is the most powerfully taboo topic of discussion in North America at the present time.  Not only do many people find it impossible to say the word  “suicide” aloud in public or even among family and friends, but also our institutions promote this silence by willingly omitting the word from official coroner statements and medical reports.  But as most mental health workers know, and as common sense will tell you, the only way you can begin to develop a solution to a problem is to have an understanding of the problem in the first place.  Edwin Shneidman’s book, Comprehending Suicide, is an excellent place to begin a development of that understanding.

This book is an unusual book, unlike any other I’ve ever read.  While it’s a fascinating source of information for anyone interested in the various issues surrounding suicide, the book’s content is not a collection of comprehensive in-depth essays on the topic of suicide.  Instead it’s more like a collection of book reviews, or very informative catalogue of books about suicide published during the previous century, selected by one of the foremost experts in the field of Thanatology  (the study of death) and Suicidology.  The book’s subtitle is  “Landmarks in 20th Century Suicidology.”  These “landmarks” are books which Shneidman considers outstanding and memorable for various reasons, and which he recommends as the ideal sources of information for anyone wanting to come to a better understanding of both the act of suicide and the individual who contemplates or commits this act. 

Shneidman begins each chapter with a brief and non-technical review of the book he is about to highlight in the chapter.  After each of these reviews Shneidman surprises his readers by including the full-sized original title page of the book he has just introduced as well as its complete table of contents.  He then offers an excerpt of no more than half a dozen pages, complete with original footnotes, and, in one instance, a partial list of references.  The book contains a discussion of, and excerpts from, thirteen different books which make up its thirteen chapters.  These chapters are grouped into five sections titled “Historical and Literary Insights,”  “Sociological Insights,”   “Biological Insights,”  “Psychiatric and Psychological Insights,” and  “Insights on Survivors and Volunteers.”  Unfortunately Shneidman doesn’t devote a section, nor does he have much to say about philosophy.  There hasn’t been very much written about suicide by 20th century philosophers—most contemporary philosophers feel the discussion of suicide belongs to psychology—and Shneidman confesses that he believes the “ruminations” of philosophers  “were never meant as prescriptions for action”  (8).  A common but sadly misguided complaint.  There is also an epilogue in which Shneidman summarizes his own beliefs about suicide, some of which were previously expressed in his review/introduction to each chapter/book.  The book ends with both an author index and a good subject index.   

Again, the reader won’t find much in-depth information about suicide in each chapter.  Shneidman states clearly that  “the purpose of this book is to inflame the imagination and interest of each reader, to move the reader to seek out the original sources, to find. . .  nuggets, solace, understanding, even tranquility;  to know that there is no simple answer to the enigma of suicide. . . ” (4).  But by presenting these excerpts and a brief discussion of writers like Durkheim, Menninger, and Aaron, Shneidman does more than simply whet the reader’s appetite.  In effect he is saying to his readers,  “These are the best in the field.  These are the books I suggest you read.”  His book is therefor a rich gold mine for anyone researching the topic of suicide.   

I respect what Shneidman has done with this book for two reasons:  first, he has offered his expertise and his own knowledge of the literature of the entire field to his readers.  And second, he is not afraid to go against the contemporary fad of defining every human behavior in medical model terms.  In his review of the book highlighted in chapter six, The Neurobiology of Suicide, he openly criticizes the currently prevalent urge to reduce suicide to biology and simply write it off as some sort of mental illness preventable with medication.  He offers this chapter with the cautionary note that what biology has measured on the laboratory bench is not suicide as such but “general perturbation. . .,”  that  “what is being measured is concomitant and not causative. . .,”  that “physiological values are being related to syndromes that are peripheral to suicide—schizophrenia, and alcoholism—and to depression, which may or may not be isomorphic with suicide,”  and that  “the bilogizing of suicide is an integral part of the medicalization of what is essentially—so I believe—a phenomenal decision in the mind”  (italics in the original;  72-3).  But this raises the question,  Why would he recommend to his readers a book whose central premise is one with which he disagrees?

He does the same thing again with his book choice for chapter 7, Karl Menninger’s Man Against Himself.  Shneidman writes in his review/introduction,  “It is regrettably accurate to say that many of the Freudian orthodoxies in the book are realistically beyond defense and that there may not be many provable statements in the book”  (90).  So why include it?  Interestingly, Shneidman justifies it by saying, because  “it is a landmark volume that has had enormous impact on thousands of American homes.”  The fact that Shneidman takes this position, offers these cautionary remarks, but then still recommends these books to his readers as the best in the field, illustrates the writer’s open-mindedness and his unbiased approach to the matter under discussion.  In other words, Shneidman created in me, his reader, the feeling that this book can be trusted to give a fair and balanced perspective.

While Shneidman presents and refers to numerous examples of scholarly discussions in the field, some of the excerpts he has chosen include case studies, segments of personal diaries, and survivor accounts which offer an insight into the very human, emotional, and personal side of self-destruction.  With this volume Shneidman has done something more important than merely show his readers that there is no simple answer to the enigma of suicide:  he has introduced to his readers the various possible answers to the question “Why?” that were offered by a variety of 20th century researchers and writers.  I found this book easy to read, well organized, and an excellent starting point for further reading and contemplation.

 

© 2002 Peter B. Raabe

Peter B. Raabe teaches philosophy and has a private practice in philosophical counseling in North Vancouver, Canada. He is the author of the book Philosophical Counseling: Theory and Practice (Praeger, 2001).


Share

Welcome to MHN's unique book review site Metapsychology. We feature over 7900 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than thirty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Can't remember our URL? Access our reviews directly via 'metapsychology.net'


Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from Amazon.com for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your Amazon.com purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!


Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click here.

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? Currently, we especially need thoughtful reviewers for books in fiction, self-help and popular psychology. To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716