A rash of teenage suicides in Russia has set off alarm bells and experts are urging the government to take immediate action.
Russia has the world's third-highest rate of suicide among teenagers aged 15-to-19, with about 1,500 taking their own lives every year, according to a recent UNICEF report. The rate is higher only in the neighboring former Soviet republics of Belarus and Kazakhstan.
In recent years, there have been 19-to-20 annual suicides per 100,000 teenagers in Russia _ three times the world average, Boris Polozhy of the respected Serbsky psychiatric center in Moscow said Friday.
"Until the highest authorities see suicide as a problem, our joint efforts will be unlikely to yield any results," he said.
In the southwestern Siberian region of Tuva, the rate reaches a staggering 120 suicides per 100,000 teenagers, while the nearby region of Buryatiya has an average rage of 77 per 100,000. Both regions are impoverished and have high crime and alcoholism rates.
Two 14-year-old girls in the Moscow suburb of Lobnya killed themselves this week by jumping off the roof of a 14-story building while holding hands. They had skipped classes for two weeks and were terrified of what their parents would do to them once they found out, Russian media quoted their friends as saying.
Several other recent teen suicides have been reported elsewhere in Russia.
Experts say that domestic violence and problems in schools are among the main reasons why adolescents take their lives.
Relations between Russian children and their parents are often "notable for their cruelty,"
said Natalya Sinyagina of the Education Ministry's Center for Education Issues in Moscow. "(But) school is also not the safest place for kids."
Russia's public schools are underfunded, staffed with poorly paid teachers and have been widely criticized for neglecting the issue of bullying among children.
"We've seen cases when a child says 'Better kill me, I'm not going to school,'" Sinyagina said.
Internet-savvy and handy with cell phones and computers, Russian teens spend hours on social networking websites and idolize pop stars just like teens elsewhere in the world. Experts say some teens romanticize early death and suicide, perceiving them as games, and are attracted by online suicide clubs that list the best ways to take your life.
"Video games and information found online have devaluated death," says Urvan Parfentyev of the Moscow-based Center for Safe Internet.
"I have seen websites that offer a thousand ways of killing oneself," said Zurab Kikelidze, Health Ministry's chief psychologist.
Pavel Astakhov, the government-appointed children's rights ombudsman, said school psychologists should find and help suicidal teenagers on social networking websites and crack down on cyber-bullying, another widespread cause of teenage suicides.