A mechanical engineer zeroes in on the physiological dynamics of the brain in a valiant effort to explain suicide and make sense of his son’s death.
In 2002, Sanchez’s son Mitchell Xavier killed himself after suffering for years from depression and panic attacks. Unsatisfied with current therapies and methods of pharmacology, the author has written two previous books searching for clues to the causes of depression and other brain disorders. This third book continues the hunt, focusing on aftoktognosis, which the author defines as the knowledge of suicide. Despite a tendency to indulge in a deluge of statistics, Sanchez offers wise and elegant words–written by the likes of Andrew Solomon and Kay Redfield James–to bring dry facts to life. The centerpiece of the book is an exhaustive, often tedious exploration of the brain based on modern neurological theory, which concludes with a lengthy description of brain mechanics and the chemical changes that may lead to panic attacks, depression and suicide. A more successful section devoted to a catalogue of mental disorders is made memorable by the inclusion of the author’s personal experiences. In a brief, moving passage, Sanchez reveals that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder in the months following his son’s suicide–anxiety disrupted his sleep and visions of Mitchell’s death haunted his waking hours. Later in the book, a suicide autopsy–a fascinating investigation into why a promising lawyer overdosed on pills–makes a convincing case that the many theories currently in play among psychiatrists and psychologists may work against each other, complicating the potential for prevention. Perhaps the most innovative theory presented involves the idea that the loss of a sense of self–otherwise known as idiozimia–may be the prerequisite for suicidal behavior. Sanchez ultimately concludes that saving a person from suicide depends on a more accurate assessment of risk and a deeper understanding of this tragic phenomenon through collaboration and communication.
An intriguing look at suicide weighed down by dense facts and figures.