The Mystery Behind Suicide

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On a cold, winter morning, almost twenty years ago, Joan Wickersham’s father shot himself. No one saw it coming. And no one could fathom why he did it.

In her new memoir, Wickersham, an accomplished novelist, revisits her father’s suicide.

Probing his death from every angle, she struggles to understand how the man she once loved and adored could take his own life.

She also tries to unravel the mystery of his suicide while coming to terms with the fact that she might never understand it.

This hour, On Point: family secrets, a father’s suicide, and the search for answers.

You can join the conversation. Have you experienced a similar tragedy in your family? How did you cope with the mystery and loss?

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Joining us in the studio is Joan Wickersham. She’s an award-winning short story writer and author of the novel, "The Paper Anniversary." Her new memoir, out today, is called "The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order." (Read an excerpt from the book.)

Joining us from New York is Dr. Paula Clayton, Medical Director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. For almost 20 years, she served as Professor and Head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine.

The Warning Signs of Suicide

  • Observable signs of serious depression:

  1. Unrelenting low mood
  2. Pessimism
  3. Hopelessness
  4. Desperation
  5. Anxiety, psychic pain and inner tension
  6. Withdrawal
  7. Sleep problems

  • Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
  • Recent impulsiveness and taking unnecessary risks
  • Threatening suicide or expressing a strong wish to die
  • Unexpected rage or anger
  • Feeling trapped - like there's no way out
  • Experiencing dramatic mood changes
  • Making a plan:

  1. Giving away prized possessions
  2. Sudden or impulsive purchase of a firearm
  3. Obtaining other means of killing oneself such as poisons or medications

(as provided by the websites of The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)

This program aired on August 4, 2008.


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