In terms of the number of suicides, Russia ranks fifth in the world, but now this trend is becoming increasingly noticeable among children. While the press reports on child suicides on a day-to-day basis, experts and civil society are trying to understand why many Russian children and teenagers do not care to live in this world.
Official statistics show that 37,570 people committed suicide in Russia last year. Over a million people have killed themselves in the country since 1990 as many as the population of some cities, or the entire population of Luxemburg, Malta or Iceland.
However, official statistics do not include children suicides. Estimates of suicides by minors in Russia range from 2,000 to 2,800 annually. This rate is twice as high as in Western Europe, the United States and Canada. While the number of suicides committed by adults has gradually decreased since the early 1990s, psychologists and social workers are alarmed by the growth in child suicides. “Paradoxically, suicides by children and teenagers are happening despite increasing opportunities for expanding social interaction. Or are the huge number of Web chats, dating sites and other social networks making the problem of loneliness worse? It is difficult to say which is the reason is and which is the consequence,” said Natalya Starovojtova, a psychologist at the Pro Bono Alliance and the branch head at the social rehabilitation center Dom Miloserdija for minors. “Moreover, it is impossible to ignore the recent trend of the family institution being destroyed and devalued,” she continued. “The traditional family performed many functions for children pedagogic, educational, economic, and that of emotional-psychological guidance. But the borders of the modern family have become ever vaguer. Many outsiders now fulfill the roles that used to be a prerogative of the family. Parents have less time to speak to children. When they notice that their children have some problems in school, they tend to turn to psychologists or teachers. It seems that they don’t have the power of love, which always used to help in finding proper words.
They believe that professionals should solve the problems and help their children. However, this approach doesn’t always work.” Psychologists say that children for whom it is difficult to adapt to the modern, success-oriented world tend to exhibit more suicidal behavior. “Early deprivation, different forms of domestic violence and probably some personality traits, such as a predisposition toward depression, are all factors that get a child thinking: ‘does anybody need me?’ Alcoholic parents also contribute to the children’s self-aggressive behavior, which might lead to suicide,” Starovojtova added. Experts distinguish between the so-called demonstrative suicide and real suicide plans. “Unrequited love, failed exams and feelings of loneliness all push teenagers toward demonstrative suicide. The actual goal is not to die, but to attract the attention of important people. It means that the child is using an inadequate way to solve the problem, and such inadequate ways are the means of communication in this family.
However, the frightful side of demonstrative suicide is that it can lead to death,” Starovojtova said. Teenagers who tend toward real suicide have some special personality traits, such as rigidity, psychologists say. It is very difficult for them to adapt to new situations, change decisions, habits and opinions. These teenagers carefully plan their suicide. They minimize contact with friends, do not make future plans and straighten things out. For example, they can present somebody with some valuable thing. When all the things are done and the suicide plan is ready, the teenager might look vivacious and cheerful. In contrast, children who tend toward demonstrative suicide often tell somebody about their intentions, make “goodbye letters” available for reading, etc. The third kind of suicide is latent suicide. Teenagers from this group tend to put their life at risk but cannot understand the reasons behind such behavior. The kinds of latent suicide are different: drugs and alcohol, dangerous kinds of sports and activities. “The most important thing is always to stay in contact with your child. If your child trusts you, he or she will probably discuss their problems with you. But if you devalue the personality of your child, put them down and deride them, the result will be the opposite,” Starovojtova advised.
However, it seems that the main reasons behind the increased number of child suicides are not just busy parents, but the high level of violence in society in general. When popular journalist Natalya Radulova wrote a blog post called the “Suicide of Schoolchildren,” it captured much less attention than celebrity news. The typical reaction of the public was negative. Typical comments such as “let them die, it’s survival of the fittest,” “if they commit suicide because of failing exams, they are idiots,” “we don’t feel sorry for them” and even “parents of such children should be put in prison for ten years” show the rough side of society, which still follows the criminal rule of “don’t trust, don’t fear, don’t ask.”
The statistics of violence against children in Russia are shocking. Last year 105,800 crimes against minors were registered, including 4,000 committed by parents. The Foundation to Support Children in Difficult Circumstances (FSCDC), an NGO, has received more than 140,000 reports about the violations of children’s rights, including 37,000 reports signaling a threat to the life and health of children in 2009.
A recent survey conducted by the National Center for Prevention of Violence “Anna” found that 40 percent of teenagers have experienced violence at home, and 50 percent report that they know families where domestic violence takes place. More than 50,000 kids leave home every year due to the parents’ alcoholism and an insufferable environment. Children are involved in domestic violence in three ways, a statement from “Anna” said. Firstly, they become the direct object of physical, sexual or psychological violence. Secondly there are situations when a “family dictator” uses children to manipulate and control an adult victim, thus taking the children hostage. The third kind of destructive experience is “seeing” violence committed against the mother. All of these types of involvement lead to psychological problems. Research shows that as a result of domestic violence, about two million children and teenagers in Russia suffer from psychological disorders, including behavioral disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, leading to suicide. “Despite government-founded rehabilitation centers working across the country, not everybody knows where to call for help,” said Elena Selyanchenkova, a spokesperson at FSCDC. “The united hotline will start working in Russia in August.” Selyanchenkova told a story about a girl who ran to the rehabilitation center because her mother bit her. “She was allowed to stay at the center until the conflict was solved. Both the mother and the daughter received psychological assistance.” Nothing, however, was said about the legal responsibility of the mother.From Russiaviolence Team: We would also like to draw to your attention an article and a documentary authored by Claire Bigg, Anastasia Kirilenko, and Alexander Kulygin posted on RFE/RL site on June 28, 2010 at: http://www.rferl.org/content/Why_Are_Russias_Children_Killing_Themselves__/2084753.html