Teenage suicides in Russia
By the end of the year the number of Russian
teenagers committing suicide might exceed one thousand. This is the
uncomfortable forecast made by specialists from the Investigative Committee of
the Russian Federation. Their statistics show an ongoing increase in the number
of minors involved. In the first half of 2012, 532 child suicides were recorded whilst in 2011 and 2010 there were
896 and 798 respectively. Evgeny Tsymbal, the director of Ozon, the Centre for
Psychological, Medical, and Social Support, was interviewed by an ASI
correspondent on what motivates the young people, how school psychologists
might help them and how parents might ensure that their children do not commit
Evgeny Tsymbal: The view that the number
of Russian teenagers committing suicide has sharply increased does not accord
with the facts. On the contrary over the last ten years the number has
decreased by 20%. Huge publicity about one and the same incident in the media
produces a disproportionate impression of the phenomenon. However, Russia,
Belarus and Kazakhstan are as previously the three world leaders for the number
of teenage suicides. Amongst the Russian regions, Buryatia, Tyva and Yakutia
are seen as the front runners. The official figures show that 19.8 out of
100,000 children commit suicide. About 2,000 children and teenagers do so
annually. The office of statistics
presents these figures on the basis of death certificates. However,
there are quite a lot of cases in which it is impossible to tell whether
someone has died folowing an accident or has committed suicide.
Correspondent: What factors might have a
bearing on the decision to commit suicide?
E Ts: Someone suffering from a
psychological disorder might take a decision to depart this life under the
influence of the illness. External factors are unimportant in such a case. So
the greater the incidence of such disorders in a given society, the greater the
number of suicides. Then again there are people who consciously choose that course.
This happens when they cannot resolve their
internal problems and do not wish to go on struggling with them.
Teenagers do not have established psychological defence mechanisms or skills
for coping with complex situations. Young people do not see their life in
perspective. They are unable to refer to past experience of overcoming
difficulties and to look to the future. They have less chance of being able to
deal on their own with the difficulties that life faces them with. For example,
it appears that parting with a loved one makes life lose its meaning. If
teenagers have no other source of positive emotions, like a hobby, than
associating with the opposite gender, then they might find themselves totally
taken over by negative emotions. So lack of opportunity to satisfy their need
for friendship or love might predispose them to decide on committing suicide.
Corr: How does social networking that
involves discussion of suicide amongst minors influence the growth in the
number of incidents?
E Ts: Suicidal behaviour on the part of
teenagers may be seen as a form of deviant behaviour. They may not know to whom
to turn for help. Searching for social websites for groups dedicated to ways of
ending one’s life and resorting to subcultures among the young constitute a
secondary phenomenon. This is a symptom of young people’s natural psychological and social immaturity.
Corr: Why is it that teenagers are in
the ‘at risk’ group?
Ts: They are aware that they are growing up but see that some are going
through the process quicker than others. Take classes in years 6 to 8 for example – all the children are different
there. Those who look younger than their classmates might form low self esteem.
They might think that they are under-developed and liable to stay that way for
ever. On the other hand, those who are developing faster physically might feel
themselves to be clumsy. Adolescents compare themselves with their peers and
with grown ups. They are conscious of undergoing change but do not know how to
respond to that. Furthermore, they are looking for meaning in life and forming
their value system. It is important for
them to find their place in life. They come up against such questions as, ‘Am I
necessary?’ or ‘Am I good?’ They begin to try out new social roles and to
identify behavioural boundaries (by trying drugs and so on).
Corr: How can parents help youngsters to
live through the difficulties of adolescence?
E Ts: It helps if parents are
emotionally close to their child. However, as adolescents become more involved
with their contemporaries, the authority of the parents declines. By the age of
12 it is already too late to develop a
trusting relationship. Parents should be relating to their children before then
in such a way that the latter can seek parental help when they find themselves
in difficulties. Then their teenager will be able to confide in them about
being in a bad mood, falling out with a friend or life ceasing to have meaning
ought not to ignore difficult situations that their children encounter such as
relationship problems with contemporaries. If it proves impossible to resolve
issues without help then it is worth turning to a psychologist or, where serious emotional disturbance is involved,
to a psychiatrist.
Corr: Some experts take the view that
preventing suicides should be the job of educational psychologists…
E Ts: They do not have the time for
that. It is the task of the school to provide a first line of defence against
suicidal behaviour. The school should be working to eliminate the causes and
conditions that might be conducive to this. Psychologists might help teenagers
to cultivate self-confidence, learn how to look after themselves and describe
ways of maintaining psychological wellbeing which are helpful in dealing with
negative emotions or aggression that could include a disposition towards ending
one’s life. Also, repressed feelings can lead to psychosomatic illnesses (dermatitis, eczema, gastritis and so
on). It is important to talk not only about how too avoid taking a wrong step
but also how to help those who have already attempted to commit suicide. If a
conflictual situation has impelled a teenager down this route, the psychologist
should help them to find a way out.
the main point is that attention should be paid to early signs giving rise to
concern – suicidal tendencies showing up in conversation or behaviour.
Relatively few teenagers commit suicide but very many are in need of
psychological support. It is important not to be tardy in delivering this!
need to grasp the fact that teenagers are not an object to be worked on but
persons. If they are treated with respect and their right to their own opinions
and feelings are recognised, then it will be possible to avoid many of the
problems connected with deviant behaviour. Children who are at peace with
themselves and others do not try to end their lives. However, I would not
separate out suicidal behaviour as a discrete area of preventative work with the exception of cases where both children
and parents have serious psychological problems. Form teachers or psychologists
can advise children, who display deviant behaviour, on consulting a
Corr: How can contemporaries help a
teenager who is thinking about suicide?
E Ts: Discussing such thoughts can
traumatise contemporaries or the teenagers themselves. A certain schoolchild
sent classmates a text message saying that he
intended to commit suicide. They dissuaded the teenager from behaving
precipitately. But the boy became an outcast and his class informed the whole
school. A group can never be sensitive
to a teenager’s feelings; a class is made up of very different children. A
teenager should preferably turn for help to friends or contemporaries with whom
he is emotionally
tune. But even contemporaries should not try to help on their own. They can act
as intermediaries between adults whom they trust (such as teachers or school
psychologists) and the teenager who is in need of help.
Corr: Where might a child in the ‘at risk
group’ turn to for help?
E Ts: The Psychological Aid Service operates in the capital providing help
to Muscovites without charge. A special confidential telephone helpline for
children has been created there. There is also a national line. Apart from that,
medico-social aid is available for teenagers at children’s health centres.
Unfortunately, many teenagers do not seek help there because they are afraid of
interview was conducted by Maria Filatova