Documentaries About Suicide

A reader asked if I knew of any documentaries about suicide. I knew of several but I wanted to research what else was available. The result: relative to other subjects, there are hardly any documentaries about suicide. It may be because it is a controversial topic. Some people believe that focusing on suicide might increase its likelihood.

Probably the most famous documentary about suicide is The Bridge which caused a great deal of controversy during production. Watch the video of The Bridge‘s filmmaker Eric Steel being interviewed by Charlie Rose.

Below is a list of documentaries about suicide. If I missed any, please let me know in the comments section.

1. The Bridge: A documentary about individuals who committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. It features friends and family members of individuals who jumped from the bridge and also at least one person who jumped and survived.

2. How To Die In Oregon: (HBO Documentaries): Oregon was the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. This film discusses Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act and features several terminally-ill patients who chose to end their life with medication prescribed by their physician.

3. Boy Interrupted: (HBO Documentaries): This film tells the story of a 15-year-old with bipolar disorder who committed suicide. The film also examines what it was like for his family to deal with his mental illness and his loss.

4. Jonestown: (PBS FRONTLINE) This documentary is about Rev. Jim Jones and the mass suicide in Jonestown in 1978. The phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” is thought to have derived from the Jonestown tragedy. Over 900 men, women and children drank soft drinks laced with cyanide for the purpose of ending their lives. There are several documentaries about Jonestown but this one particular is told from the perspective of cult defectors, relatives and journalists.

5. *Heaven’s Gate: This documentary is about a San Diego-based cult that was formed by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles in which 39 members committed mass suicide. The purpose of ending their lives was to reach an alien spacecraft which they thought was following Comet Hale-Bopp. If you’re interested in cults you’ll like this documentary.

6. Cry For Help: (PBS FRONTLINE): This documentary follows the efforts of two high schools attempting to address adolescent teen suicide and mental illness. Many people who have seen this documentary find it to be very compelling.

7. The Self-Made Man: This is a documentary made by Susan Stern whose father committed suicide at the age of 77. You can read more about the film here.

8. Kevorkian: (HBO Documentaries): This is less of a documentary in the traditional sense but a film about the life of Jack Kevorkian starring Al Pacino. Jack Kevorkian has performed over 130 physician-assisted suicide and has earned the name “Dr. Death.” His work is very controversial. It is an interesting documentary and worth watching.

PBS FRONTLINE also has a documentary about Dr. Kevorkian.

9. Daughter of Suicide: This is a documentary by Dempsey Rice, whose mother was a psychotherapist and an amateur photographer. It is the story of her mother’s death by suicide as well as an in-depth look at the healing process of the family. Daughter of Suicide is the recipient of many awards.

10. Aftermath: The Legacy of Suicide: This documentary deals with how children cope after the death of a parent by suicide. It features three people who lost their fathers to suicide at an early age.

6 thoughts on “Documentaries About Suicide

  1. A Summer In The Cage is a great mental health documentary…

    VERY INTERESTING & Informative!
    Ben Selkow’s feature-length documentary chronicles his friend Sam’s battle with manic-depressive illness, also known as bipolar disorder. The film follows Sam for seven years.

    Really shows what dealing with this mental illness is like from many sides.

  2. I’m trying to find out the name of a documentary I saw on TV once and I can’t find it anywhere on google. It was about one family’s struggle to cope after the father commit suicide. The father was the filmmaker’s husband. It was such a beautiful film, and really showed the healthiest way possible to help children deal with a parent’s suicide. The mother/filmmaker took it head on, and taught the children that their father had a mental health issue, and sometimes when that happens the brain stops functioning as it should. At times like that, a mentally ill person cannot discern what is sensible and what is not. She showed her children that suicide is a mistake that their father never ever would have chosen if he had been healthy, because he loved them very much and would never had made that decision if he had been thinking straight. It also showed very clearly how men and women often cope with things differently. The son had a much harder time communicating about the issue than the daughter did. It took extra effort and different tactics to deal with her son’s grief and anger. I really really want to find this film so I can ask the filmmaker if I can make an Inuktitut version to show in Inuit communities in the arctic where suicide (especially among young men) is so common. I hope someone out there can point me in the right direction.

  3. I love documentaries. There are a couple sites online where you can download many good ones.

    I’ll look forward to watching the daughter of suicide one. Seen the Bridge, Suicide Tourist, and a couple others. End of life or terminal illness suicide seem like separate issues from other kinds of suicide to me. Not sure how these deal with the impact suicide has on family members, but suicide seems to be contagious in families. Wish there was emphasis on this fact because children of parents who commit suicide are deeply impacted in how they view whether they can endure hard things in life.

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