Every 40 seconds, throughout the world, one person dies by suicide according to the latest data from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Russia has been recognised as a country in a state of emergency due to suicide statistics. Russia ranks third worldwide in terms of the number of suicides among both sexes and first in the number of suicides among men. This means five suicides occur every hour.
According to the WHO report, the rate of suicides in Russia in 2016 was 26.5 per 100,000 people. This report was criticised by Russian experts, as it was not clear which sources had been used by WHO. The Russian Ministry of Health had published another lower figure, 23.1 suicides per 100,000 people. However, the figure is still too high and higher than the world average.
It is clear that the economic situation is not the main reason for such shocking statistics. There are many countries, where the economy is much worse, than in Russia, but they still do not have such high numbers of suicides.
Experts have observed a close correlation between high suicide statistics and heavy consumption of alcohol in Russia. Heavy alcohol use is considered to be a significant factor in the rate of suicide. Nearly half of all suicides are linked with alcohol abuse, which is why it is believed that alcohol consumption is a much more significant factor than economic conditions.
This begins to explain, why the former Soviet countries, for example Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Lithuania which are considered to be among the nations with the highest alcohol consumption levels, also have the greatest number of suicides.
It may sound strange, but despite the disturbing statistics, the situation regarding suicide nowadays in Russia is much better than it was several years ago.
According to the Russian Federal State Statistics Service, the number of suicides committed in Russia has decreased by two thirds over the last 17 years, the most recent data was published in 2017.
In 2000, the total number of suicides registered was 56,900 and in 2017 it was 20,100, showing a marked decline. Experts say that the stabilisation of the economic and political situation in Russia played a significant role in this process. The average Russian citizen now has more economic security compared with the chaotic 1990s, when people could lose their savings overnight and wages were not paid for months.
What about Teenagers?
But the situation regarding suicides among adolescents is not at all positive. The Investigative Committee of Russia advised that in 2017 it had registered 692 adolescent suicides or 2.3 suicides per 100,000 teenagers. And in 2018 the number was even higher – 788 or 2.6 per 100,000. It means that the average suicide rate among the Russian adolescent population is much higher than the world’s average. And these statistics do not take into account cases where suicides were qualified as accidents and attempted suicides.
Children's Rights Commissioner Anna Kuznetsova in a press statement recognised that the problem exists, adding that it required “taking appropriate measures and preventive measures first of all.” Experts are sure that unrequited love, family conflicts, drug and alcohol use as well as problems in school are among the main reasons for suicide among teens from all over the world and Russia in particular.
Unicef and the Federal Budget Entity “The Central Research Institute for Health Care Organisation and Informatisation” under the Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation, have conducted an integrated study called ‘Adolescent Deaths from Suicide in Russia’.
This study has revealed that depression and high levels of anxiety and aggression, much higher than in Western countries, are common among Russian youngsters. Polls have shown that 45% of girls and 27% of young men in Russia have thoughts of suicide. Once again, poverty is not the key reason. The roots of the problem, in most cases are hidden in disadvantaged family circumstances such as parental alcoholism, conflicts in the family and abusive treatment.
Another problem is that Russian schools have a lack of qualified psychologists in the educational process. Kuznetsova has called on the Ministry of Education to address this problem.
In addition, Russian authorities are working on limiting access to the websites and internet communities that encourage self-harm or suicide.
How Can the Situation be Improved?
“In Moscow there is 24/7 ‘trust line’ where a patient or her or his relatives can call and ask for a support.
“Also, it is possible to go to any psychiatric clinic where mental health services are available, for free,” said psychiatrist Kristina Khokholkina
The main problem is that the overwhelming majority of Russians are entirely ignorant about mental health. A clinical psychologist in most cases is not perceived as a person who can help to deal with real problems, and anxiety or depression are treated as indulgences. This is despite the fact that life in big cities like Moscow or St Petersburg is associated with high rates of mental health problems, in addition to greater loneliness, isolation and stress.
“When someone says he or she is thinking about suicide, it’s a criterion, by law, for involuntary hospitalisation in a psychiatric clinic. In such cases the help of a psychiatrist as well as psychotropic therapy is needed. After that psychotherapy sessions are needed as well as group sessions with a clinical psychologist. This help is provided for free,” Khokholkina said.
It seems that it is the responsibility of the authorities to deal with mental health awareness among citizens, and it is a real chance to improve the statistics.
“There is a rumour that talking about suicide can increase the risk of it occurring. It is not true. The studies have proven that speaking with a person who wants to commit suicide, reduces the possibility of a tragedy occurring
“You need to learn to listen, not to be indifferent. Pay attention to the people who are nearby. Maybe someone really needs help right now,” said Deputy Minister of Health of the Russian Federation Oleg Salagay on his Telegram account.