Tag Archives: suicide

Why Did a Young Woman Broadcast Her Death?

My uncle Howard killed himself in college. He was a grad student in Ann Arbor, engaged to be married, and, according to my family, well-liked. He suffered from depression worsened by tensions with his father. My grandmother knew this, yet she struggled to understand her son’s suicide for the rest of her long life. When Howard committed suicide in 1968, he did it in private inside a school chemistry lab, but he clearly wanted to be found, because he was sending a message. When 18-year-old Océane ended her life in May, 2016, she streamed the incident in real time, jumping in front of a suburban Paris subway train while strangers watched and commented.

At The GuardianRana Dasgupta tells Océane’s story and tries to understand why a young ailing woman could both criticize social media and use social media to communicate her message. Océane was wounded by trauma and haunted by the sense that no one cared, a fact that social media only amplified. Examining this central contradiction, Dasgupta teases out the allure of escape in the depressed Parisian suburbs, the way disconnected youth seek connection, and the way celebrity, even internet celebrity, drains people of life.

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From a Hawk to a Dove

Illustration by Katie Kosma

Ray Cocks | Longreads | May 2017 | 11 minutes (2,844 words)

Our latest Exclusive is an essay by Vietnam veteran Ray Cocks, co-funded by Longreads Members and published in collaboration with TMI Project, a non-profit that brings empowering memoir writing and true storytelling workshops to underserved populations.

When I graduate high school in the spring of 1967, I’m determined to go to war. I enlist in the army and prepare to leave, proudly, for Vietnam.

Before I go I encounter some older guys coming back home. They speak out against the conflict, but I don’t believe them. “Don’t go,” they tell me. “It’s bullshit. It’s all bullshit.” I think they’re just hogging all the glory for themselves.

Nothing is going to stop me. Besides, what ever happened to “My country, right or wrong”?


To tell my story, It helps to back up and start with my father’s.

During World War II, he was a gunner’s mate, third class, on board the aircraft carrier Yorktown — the second one, commissioned after the first was sunk. He was on a five-inch cannon, information that means little to me when I first learn it as a kid. But then I wind up on a four-inch cannon in Vietnam.

My generation was raised by World War II veterans — the iron men who served on such ships and watched as their friends were burned to death, blown to hell, drowned, eaten by sharks, shot to pieces literally. World War II, “the big one,” — a massive, global stroke of insanity that brewed from the ashes of World War I, the war that was to make the world safe for democracy.

These men went through the rest of their lives, for the most part, with untreated PTSD. My father was no exception. Read more…

On Bearing Witness: Saving Chickens, Saving Myself

Photo by Vince Wingate (CC BY-SA 2.0)

At Catapult, Christine Hyung-Oak Lee reflects on seeing and “being seen” — the silent gift of bearing witness to one another and individual suffering as a way of offering comfort and hope.

Last year, I watched a young woman meander toward the rail of the Golden Gate Bridge every five steps. I asked her if she was enjoying her Christmas Eve—and did she see the seals below in the water?

She smiled. I was not sure it was a real smile. But she did not venture toward the edge again. I know this, because I followed her at a distance to the other side.

In years past, I would have looked the other way. I would have thought it was not my business. In years past, I was that young girl. But my aunt kept me in her line of sight. She didn’t tell me to keep walking, I just did. And I knew she was behind me the entire time.

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The Humanizing Properties of Depression: Daphne Merkin Talks to Gabby Bess

At Broadly, Gabby Bess — a writer who has depression — interviews life-long sufferer Daphne Merkin, and reviews Merkin’s new memoir, This Close to Happy: A Reckoning With Depression, in the process. Although Bess reports that the book doesn’t offer any prescriptions or promises for relief, she seems to find comfort in identification with the frequently suicidal author.

“…during our call, we agree that life is bad. It’s clear from her own case that money can’t buy happiness—it can only buy the stints in psychiatry units, or therapy sessions, or however you take your self-care. Wanting to die while living among the rich and being one them, perhaps, makes the emptiness of our current setup and its values all the more pronounced.

“There’s a lot that’s terrible about life. I think some people have a guard up against it. They overlook it,” she says. “I think that people who suffer from depression are sort of finely tuned to it. I write somewhere in my book that depression is the loss of necessary illusions. You need a certain amount of illusion to live.” She adds, “Depression can be very humanizing. I’ve thought to myself, If [Donald] Trump suffered from some type of depression, he’d be a different person.”

However, until we change the world, which might be more possible now than ever, we need to take care of ourselves and continue living. Merkin recognizes that life is all she has: “I think [suicide] affords a kind of—this is putting it strangely—a paradoxical relief to a very depressed person, to think there’s one way out of it,” she tells me over the phone. “I would somehow think if I commit suicide then I’ll be happy, but where am I going to be happy?”

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The Family That Would Not Live

Colin Dickey Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places | Viking | October 2016 | 10 minutes ( 4,181 words)


Below is an excerpt from Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places. In this excerpt, Dickey sleeps over in the purportedly haunted Lemp Mansion in St. Louis, Missouri, the historic home of a 19th-century beer brewer whose suicide sent a family into a tailspin of horrific tragedy. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor A. N. Devers.

* * *

It is, quite literally, a dark and stormy night. A summer storm has settled over St. Louis: gray­-black clouds turning the air yellowish and electric, the rain pulsing down in waves. The sprint from the parking lot to the front door of the Lemp Mansion—no more than fifty feet—leaves you soaked. The thunder is following on the heels of the lightning; it is right above us. In the bar the stained ­glass portraits of William Lemp, Jr., and his first wife, Lillian Lemp—the Lavender Lady—flicker to life from the lightning outside with disturbing fre­quency, the accompanying thunder coming fast afterward. It is the perfect night for a ghost hunt: the air already electric, everyone already a bit on edge. In his portrait, William Lemp looks prematurely old; the glass art­ist has added shading to his face to give the appearance of three dimen­sions, but the result instead is that he appears haggard, black pits around his eyes, deep creases in his skin.

As if he knows he’s going to die.

The owners of the Lemp Mansion seem quite content to capitalize on the building’s repu­tation. Ghost hunters come here regularly to take tours, use KII meters and ghost boxes, and record for EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon) and orbs. I’m here for one such tour, led by a local ghost-­hunting group. I’m also here to spend the night, since the Lemp Mansion operates as a bed-­and-­breakfast—though I won’t be able to get into my room until 11 p.m. My room, the Elsa Lemp Suite, is itself part of the tour: the most haunted room in this most haunted house. Read more…

Letter to an Ex, on the Occasion of His Suicide

Illustration by: Katie Kosma

Masha Hamilton | Longreads | August 2016 | 24 minutes (5,851 words)


It was morning, after another rough night. You’d barely slept on the floor in Bill’s cave of an apartment, where you’d spent the last three nights watching the hour of the wolf stretch to become every hour that was dark or semi-dark. Now, though the apartment remained as stale and murky as it had been at 1 a.m., then 2 a.m., then 3, you knew it was light outside. A long way from the kind of light you loved, when clouds turn pink from the rising sun, water-coloring men who make coffee in tin kettles with long handles over an open fire. That was Africa—Rwanda or the Congo or maybe Madagascar. This was Manhattan. Fucking Manhattan.

You ate plenty, like a man with plans: two lemon drop cookies, a lemon yogurt and half a pint of strawberry ice cream. That’s what Bill had in his kitchen. You watered the mix with coffee. Then you spilled out the bullets to reduce your payload to two. One was all you truly needed, but somehow you thought it right to have a spare. On any op, the best-laid plans turn to mush once it starts, you’d often said. Contingencies were critical.

You set off, walking toward the East River where dumped bodies, grim blossoms, push their way up each spring once the water thaws. It took only five or six minutes to reach Sutton Place Park, even moving slowly as you do now—did then—with the pain in your hips and feet. You passed East Side professionals on their way to work and the ornate, obscenely expensive brownstones built by Effingham Sutton, who raked it in during the 1849 California Gold Rush. I can imagine you making fun of his first name.

The river drew you first, the park only secondarily. You’d been talking for days about going to the river, though it seemed metaphorical and was never clear what you meant. You chose a bench with a view, not because it mattered, but because, legs cemented in place, they all have views.

Did you take it in? No; you moved too quickly for that, your mind too focused on its end goal, and besides you were way over the city, way beyond wanting to appreciate light cast by an urban sun, the oily shine on the river, the trees insisting even here on renewal. Screw the miracles of life. Yes, you were one; you had been one. That was then. This was now. Read more…

Suicide in the Family

In the literary magazine Post Road, Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson writes about how her grandmother ─ a smart, talented woman born in repressive times ─ committed suicide for unclear reasons, and how silence and that gap in the family narrative shapes the way we view ourselves. As a historian and author, Dickinson’s father made a living telling stories that reflected how, in his words, “Life is messy.” The same applies to the end of life, too, and Dickinson explores the benefits of talking openly about tragedy and personal history. Her essay appeared in Fall 2015.

Silence, though, is not an uninhabitable vacuum. It is no black hole. The place where stories stop and silence starts becomes its own fertile ground; other notions take root. A story grew in my childhood, one of my own devising. I believed, from a young age, that I was Wilmeth reincarnate. This idea was reinforced by the way my father sometimes looked at me, or in the rare breaches when he would say, “You remind me of your grandmother today.” I believed that I had to make amends for Wilmeth’s truncated life. I would be healthy and normal. I would be smart and successful.

Unlike my grandmother, I had the power of choice and I made hard ones. I chose not to marry that man in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and to risk waiting for a different kind of love. I chose to be a writer, to work for myself, to buy a very old house and to tear it to the studs in order to bring it back to life. In a letter written to me a few years before his death, my father recounted these choices and he told me that I was brave. I had to be, you understand. Here, I had no choice. I had to prove what my grandmother might have become if given the chance. I had to show that it was merely thwarted opportunity, and not biology, that pulled that trigger.

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The High-Stress Life of a First Responder

You don’t know what it’s like to be an emergency services provider until you’ve stood in the piss-soaked bedroom of a house and watched a team of medics try to revive an old, lonely guy though 15 minutes of automated CPR. It’s a small part of the job, but unavoidable. When the call goes off for a critical emergency, medics have no choice but to make haste.

“We exist around death, dying, injury, and illness,” remarked Jay Cloud, a paramedic with 33 years of experience outside of Houston. “When we see these horrible situations, we can’t turn off our biological insistence that this is a critical situation. We have to learn to rein in our reactions and refocus that to getting [the situation] resolved. And it is terrible to have to deal with these things. Usually it involves children or senior citizens.”

Indeed, the life of a first responder is one of the most stressful in the nation, one where the non-life-threatening situations can be seen as nuisances, and the high-pressure ones cause nightmares.

Chase Hoffberger writing in The Austin Chronicle about Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services. Austin’s EMS system is one of the best in the nation, but several recent suicides have highlighted structural problems.

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‘It’s not too much of a stretch to say that this story fundamentally changed me as a person’

All reporters have pieces that stay with them, stories whose characters and components linger long after the last revisions have been rendered and the paper put to bed. For Jennifer Mendelsohn, Sean Bryant was that character.

Mendelsohn first encountered Sean Bryant shortly after his death, nearly two decades ago. Transfixed by his short, vivid life and subsequent suicide, she eventually produced “Everything to Live For,” a gripping, deeply reported  investigation into Bryant’s life and death. The story first appeared in the June 1998 issue of Washingtonian, and our thanks to Mendelsohn for allowing us to reprint it here. Mendelsohn also spoke with Longreads about how she first encountered Bryant, her reporting process, and the effect his life has had on hers. Read more…

Everything to Live For

Jennifer Mendelsohn Washingtonian | June 1998 | 36 minutes (8,995 words)

Jennifer Mendelsohn is the “Modern Family” columnist for Baltimore Style magazine. A former People magazine special correspondent and Slate columnist, her work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Washingtonian, Tablet, Medium, McSweeney’s and Jezebel. This story first appeared in the June 1998 issue of Washingtonian (subscribe here). Our thanks to Mendelsohn for allowing us to reprint it here. You can also read a short Q & A with the author here.

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