Book Review: Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me
Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me: Depression in the First Person is written by journalist Anna Mehler Paperny, and is both a story of her own personal experiences of suicidality and an in-depth journalistic exploration of depression and suicide.
The author has done her research well. The book contains information gleaned from interviews with quite a number of experts in fields relating to the topic.
The first section of the book is focused on the author’s personal experiences. She provided detailed descriptions of multiple suicide attempts. My personal preference is for a less is more approach to details about suicide methods, but I can accept that she was trying to be totally open.
Regarding her experience on an inpatient ward after a suicide attempt, she writes:
“Surely, few groups of patients are as unpleasant by definition as those whose disease targets their brains. If it’s weird waking to find yourself in a different stranger’s care each morning, it can’t be much more pleasant to be charged with caring for a cycle of erratic nutbars with sub-optimal hygiene practices.”
She explains that she found herself wishing she had succeeded because everything that caused her to hate herself before the attempt hadn’t gone away. I’ve written about this before, and I think it’s really important to accept the reality that some people feel regret about not dying rather than regret about the attempt itself.
There were some lines that I quite liked, such as: “No one wants this crap illness that masquerades as personal failing.” Some quirky analogies made an appearance, such as likening being unable to act out suicidal thoughts to “blue balls, but for death.”
There were also some lines that just didn’t sit with me that well. Regarding drinking paint thinner as a suicide method: “I tried paint thinner. Don’t try paint thinner.” I can see the benefit of bringing a lighthearted tone to serious subjects, but for me this started to cross over into cavalier territory.
The author also observed that: “The DSM’s authors boil down diagnosis of mental illness to something resembling an online quiz: Which Disney Princess Mental Disorder Are You?” I’m not really sure how that’s useful for anything.
Paperny outlines her own experiences of treatment before moving into the more journalistic part of the book, in which she examines what science has to tells us about depression and suicide. There are descriptions of medications, psychotherapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), deep brain stimulation, etamine, psilocybin, and more.
The last section of the book examines a number of different social issues that come into play, including lack of coverage for therapy, the influence of race and culture, the role of police, and involuntary committal. The author also writes about bad experiences in hospital being a major deterrent to seeking out help for suicidal ideation; this is something I see as a huge issue.
She had a bit of a different take on stigma:
“I am so tired of the word ‘stigma.’ Perhaps it once had resonance. Maybe its utterance once conjured a concrete, clearly delineated concept. But repetition has rendered it meaningless, the way a surfeit of swearing robs cuss words of their sting.” But stigma is “gross and profoundly damaging.”
What I found most challenging about this book was the length. The paperback is around 350 pages, and I would have liked to see it trimmed down a bit. The length was also an issue with the paragraphs, the sections, and some of the chapters. It’s not necessarily a major flaw in the book overall, but depression has not been kind to my concentration, and for me this was a tough read. It wasn’t that the content was hard to read; it just wasn’t chunked well enough for me.
Overall, though, I think this book offers an interesting perspective, and we certainly need to get more people talking about suicide and what we can do about it.
I received a reviewer copy of this book from www.netgalley.com.
Originally published at https://mentalhealthathome.org on August 14, 2019.