The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday April 2nd

Author Educates UNC on Suicide

Author Kay Redfield Jamison came to Chapel Hill on Friday as part of her continuing quest to educate college students and faculty on the daily, albeit seldomly discussed, realities of suicide.

"(Suicide is) a major public health epidemic that not many people want to talk about," she said.

Jamison, author or co-author of five books and many scientific articles regarding psychological topics, spoke to students in the University's Department of Psychiatry about the biological aspects of suicide.

"College students don't have the forum to learn about depression," she said.

"Universities are just now trying to become proactive in dealing with depression and suicide."

But Jamison is also comfortable communicating her subject matter through literature. Jamison recently published "Night Falls Fast," a nonfiction examination of suicide that draws from sources ranging from scientific journals to writers such as Edgar Allen Poe.

Jamison said the tour of college campuses is important to her because it allows her to connect to one of the biggest demographics of suicide victims.

"I had asked my publisher if, instead of just going to bookstores, I could go to universities," she said. "I'm a great believer in the idea that students should be the ones to know (the facts about suicide)."

Jamison said she wanted the book to be scientifically sound but read by people who weren't in the psychiatric or medical communities, which she said was a difficult balance to strike.

To establish a middle ground between readability and scientific thoroughness, Jamison used more than 100 pages of endnotes, referencing scientific journals, newspaper articles and even the works of literary figures who attempted suicide.

Removing scientific details from the main text allowed the book to be accessible to readers without scientific backgrounds.

"If anyone wants to find out about the science, it's in the back of the book," she said.

Throughout the 2 1/2 years Jamison spent writing and researching "Night Falls Fast," she became fascinated by questions usually overlooked in popular discussion of the topic.

While the book concentrates on comprehending the modern reasons and consequences of suicide, Jamison said her mind often wandered to the origins of the phenomenon.

"I kept asking myself, `Who was the first person who committed suicide? How far back? Was it a Homo sapiens, was it an ape?' I became rather haunted by that question," she said.

Despite her fascination with suicide's beginnings, Jamison's work is grounded in the here and now.

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