Every September, mental health is highlighted by advocates and other supporters who want to encourage vulnerable populations suffering from mental health and mood disorders. We've found 14 of the best cross-cultural books about suicide for adults, addressing various concerns and histories.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Fiction Books About Suicide Loss for Adults
- Nonfiction Books About Suicide Loss for Adults
- Books About Suicide Prevention for Adults
- Books About Surviving Suicide for Adults
If you or is someone you know is seeking support and information regarding suicide, suicide prevention, and surviving suicide for adults, check out this list. We've discovered books that cover many genres and themes, providing you with authentic voices to address some needs, hopefully.
Fiction Books About Suicide Loss for Adults
Each author listed here uniquely tackles the subject of loss and suicide from the perspective of a mother, sister, and other adults revisiting the past.
1. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
The author's social commentary regarding “boys will be boys” invites the reader to see the boys' pubescent displays alongside society's inaction. Eugenides based the novel in the present as these boys, now grown men, journey back in time.
Throughout The Virgin Suicides, Eugenides plays with themes of subject-object, girls who are sexually maturing, and careless lustfulness. Without an emotional or mental support structure from parents or society, the girls became the boys' fantasy. As they examine the suicides witnessed so many years ago, the reader sees remnants of that same careless objectification of women once again.
2. Sea of Trees by Robert James Russell
In the Sea of Trees, the reader follows Bill and Junko as they search for her sister Izumi in the Aokigahara Forest, aka the Suicide Forest. Their dialog and obsession become a kind of toxic seduction while the insertion of vignettes romanticizes suicide—each contributing to a complex and self-destructive novella.
Perhaps the author intends to use the forest as a literary tool, a pathetic fallacy where it becomes another character. Maybe it's Junko being drawn in and connecting with her sister. However it was intended, Russell’s book is a fascinating read. Somehow the journey of the despondent compares to the reality of those left behind.
3. A Pale View of the Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
While grieving her eldest daughter's suicide, Etsuko begins to revisit memories of the devastation in Nagasaki, Japan, during WWII. There, Etsuko lost her entire family to the bombing. These recollections also introduce the reader to Mariko in A Pale View of the Hills.
Given the amount of detail and use of metaphor, you'll begin to wonder if Mariko is Etsuko's projection of herself. With her daughter dead, perhaps Etsuko can't suppress the old wounds once kept out of sight. Imagining Mariko also removes her fear of being judged or misunderstood, especially regarding the death of Jiro, who may be her first husband.
Nonfiction Books About Suicide Loss for Adults
In the following books about grief and survival, you’ll discover stories to help you process the death of a child, sudden deaths, and what’s behind the farmer suicides in Maharashtra, India.
4. Shattered: Surviving the Loss of a Child by Gary Roe
Roe is a well-known counselor and advocate for grief recovery. His skill has earned him awards and notoriety across multiple venues and platforms, including the prestigious Diane Duncan Award for Excellence in Hospice Care.
When Gary Roe's friend lost their child to suicide, this pastor and grief counselor knew he had to write a book. With his history and experience helping parents cope with the death of an adult child, he's able to support a parent's reemergence into hope in Shattered: Surviving the Loss of a Child.
5. It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture that Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine
In It's OK That You're Not OK, author and counselor Megan Devine promotes showing and fully experiencing one’s emotions. People often hide them for fear of being judged or misunderstood, feeling ashamed or embarrassed, and therefore bury them until one day when they can’t stifle the truth any longer.
While her husband's unexpected death helps her empathize with readers, some feel she supports an extended wallowing in one's grief. Other critics suggest she distorts genuine sorrow for "natural order" deaths.
6. Harvesting Hope in the Suicide Zone: Women Who Challenged Drought, Death and Destiny by Radheshyam Jadhav
In Harvesting Hope in the Suicide, journalist Radheshyam reveals the harrowing stories of women living in Maharashtra, India, known as the farmer's suicide zone. Men and husbands die by suicide because of drought, debt, and despair, but the women persevere for the sake of their children and their own lives.
These women are finding ways to circumvent drought events and enhance their incomes even now by creating value-added goods, developing farm-to-kitchen resources, and selling directly to consumers. For them, suicide is not an option but a loss they must survive.
7. Gullah Geechee Heritage in the Golden Isles by Amy Lotson Roberts and Patrick Day Holladay, Ph.D.
Located at Dunbar Creek on St. Simmonds Island, Glynn County, GA, is the sight of an 1803 mass suicide event from Nigerian slaves, shipped to the country by slave merchants John Couper and Thomas Spalding. Of the original slaves, 75 were sent to another island to be sold there.
Those 75 Igbo slaves rebelled and drowned their captors, and when they came ashore still connected by the chains of their captors, they sang with their Chief then walked into the ocean. Though some initially doubted the story's authenticity, oral history and accounts have succeeded in making Gullah Geechee Heritage in the Golden Isles part of Georgia's school curriculum.
Books About Suicide Prevention for Adults
Below, you’ll discover perspectives about mental health and suicide prevention from the black community, a cognitive therapist, and a wellness author who took up running with her dog.
8. The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health: Navigate an Unequal System, Learn Tools for Emotional Wellness, and Get the Help you Deserve by Rheeda Walker, Ph.D.
Readers of The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health herald Rheeda Walker as someone who provides an appropriate voice to promote mental health and emotional well-being in the black community and from the black perspective.
Critics suggest that she doesn't provide enough new or provocative ideas to support those who've been through dozens of self-help books before. But many find her approach inspirational enough to make a change.
9. All Secure: A Special Operations Soldier's Fight to Survive on the Battlefield and the Homefront by Tom Satterly and Steve Jackson
Veteran and active-duty suicides are on a very concerning trend upward. The youngest enlisted troops account for less than half of the overall military population but account for 61% of the suicides. Perhaps even 22 veterans die by suicide each day.
Satterly's book All Secure gives depth to those numbers as he shares his history in the military, including war stories and struggles with PTSD. Through first-hand insight, you'll also learn about how survivor's guilt affects military members and contributes to things like substance abuse and depression.
10. Building a Life Worth Living by Marsha M. Linehan, PhD
Marsha M. Linehan, psychologist and author, developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to help those struggling with depression. Her personal experience and familiarity with suicidal thoughts and her stay at a psychiatric facility enable her to communicate about prevention and survival authentically.
Mindfulness and acceptance are overarching themes in this cognitive behavioral therapy, as are her faith and perseverance. Building a Life Worth Living explains the principles and techniques of DBT to help those struggling with suicidal thoughts.
11. Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink by Nita Sweeney
Depression Hates a Moving Target is Sweeney’s story about tackling chronic bipolar depression and other mood disorders through running with her dog. Although Sweeney’s start was slow (she only ran in 60-second intervals to start), she eventually surpassed those hard minutes, building confidence and disrupting the couch potato inside to compete in marathons.
Wellness author Nita Sweeney believes that not only running but running with your pet is the easiest way to quickly boost mental and physical health. After all, there’s an incandescent joy on a dog’s face when they get to take adventures with their humans, one that draws you into the eagerness and joy.
Books About Surviving Suicide for Adults
Three ordinary people discuss their spirals into trying to die by suicide to be revived by faith, cognitive, and ECT therapies.
12. The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live by Heather B. Armstrong
In the Valedictorian of Being Dead, you’ll discover Heather B. Armstrong's account of suicide survivors. Some have found her honesty to be sick, whiny, or inaccessible, while others have heralded it and found it insightful, validating, and brave.
Those suffering from depression will appreciate the struggle to ask for help and help themselves. During peak struggle, Armstrong was recently divorced and raising two children alone. With effective Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) treatments, she's been able to write and share her stories with others who are severely depressed.
13. Recklessly Alive: What My Suicide Attempt Taught Me About God and Living Life to the Fullest by Sam Eaton
In Recklessly Alive, Sam Eaton shares the journey he took from a suicide attempt to a life filled with abundance. He doesn't claim to be unique, have extraordinary gifts, or stand apart from other notable humans. But that's why his story resonates with a majority of people. And although he uses his ministerial background to encourage and uplift, it’s not going to feel preachy.
Sam’s just an average guy who started to have honest conversations about faith and mental health and found the courage to live. Anyone who’s ever had feelings of worthlessness or like they didn’t have a purpose can find some connection with Eaton’s story.
14. Out of The Darkness Into The Light: A Memoir of Suicide Survival, Strength and Love by Kerri Gardner
Kerri Gardner's incredible story of coming from the ashes of depression and surviving suicide is nothing short of remarkable. Hers begins with an accident at a very young age, followed by addiction to prescription pain killers, and eventually trying to die by suicide at age 13.
Though her journey wasn't easy, she sees the world differently and has a more positive attitude. Out of the Darkness Into the Light has helped many people crippled with depression to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Suicide, Suicide Prevention, and Surviving Suicide
September is suicide awareness month, where you can find resources to help people move through grief and find the support needed to address risk and prevention. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, these books may be able to help.
- Jadhav, Radheshyam. “How farmers in Maharashtra are enhancing their income amid Covid crisis.” The Hindu Business Line, The Hindu Business Line, 18 June 2020, thehindubusinessline.com/economy/agri-business/how-farmers-in-maharashtra-are-enhancing-their-income-amid-covid-crisis/article31857960.ece
- Momodu, Samuel. “Igbo Landing Mass Suicide.” Black Past, Black Past, 25 October 2016, blackpast.org/african-american-history/igbo-landing-mass-suicide-1803/
- Vanden Brook, Tom. “Suicide rate among active-duty troops jumps to six-year high, COVID-19 stress could make it even worse.” USA Today, USA Today, October 2020, usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/10/01/suicide-rate-among-active-duty-troops-jumps-six-year-high/5879477002/