'Media magnifying teenage suicides in Russia'

Moscow: The rate of teenage suicides in Russia was declining but excessive media coverage portrays it as a growing trend, experts have said.

“There has been a decrease in children’s suicides. There is no need to heat up the situation. There is no epidemic, but the tragedy is really here,” said Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s rights ombudsman

Astakhov had earlier termed teen suicides a “nationwide tragedy”.

According to official statistics from the Federal State Statistics Service or Rosstat, the number of suicides committed by people under 14 fell to 240 in 2010, less than half the 500 teenage suicides recorded in 2000.

However, the Russian media has reported in detail each of the 17 suicide cases that have taken place in the country since the beginning of February.

On Feb 7, two 14-year-old girls killed themselves by jumping from the roof of a 14-storeyed building in Lobnya town near Moscow. They had reportedly skipped classes for two weeks and were afraid what would happen when their parents found out.

The next day, a 14-year-old boy jumped from the window of his apartment on the 12th floor in Moscow. He was said to be accused of stealing a classmate’s camera and had a nasty argument with his father.

The media also reported about teenagers slashing their veins, swallowing dangerous pills and hanging themselves.

“This outburst of media attention began after the first sensational case (the two girls in Lobnya). The main reason for the suicide peak is the romanticised media reports that depict the cases with all the juicy details,” said Anna Portnova of the Serbsky Research Institute for Forensic Psychology.

“We haven’t registered any bump in suicides compared to the same period in 2011. On the contrary, the number of suicide victims in Moscow has decreased,” Portnova said.

According to the Federal State Statistics Service, the number of suicides in Russia is gradually decreasing. In 2010, there were 23 suicides per 100,000 people as compared to 41 deaths per 100,000 people in 1995.

Numerous groups on Russian social networking site Vkontakte, popular among teenagers, suggest methods to commit suicide.

According to a Unicef survey released in November 2011, 20 percent of all young Russians have “adolescent depression”, a psychological disorder that pushes teenagers to suicidal thoughts due to a weak instinct for self-preservation.

The social networking site’s spokesman, Vladislav Tsyplukhin, however, said that the company quickly shut down the pages that call to violence or self-killing.

But new pages on suicide appear every day. A search of Vkontakte yielded over 1,000 pages that have the word “suicide” in their name.

Bertrand Bainvel, head of the Russian Unicef office, said the media reported about suicides as if they were something “fashionable”.

“The media should tell you what to do if you feel depressed, where to go, where to call instead of reporting details of such stories,” Bainvel said.

He said Unicef has opened 150 “youth-friendly clinics” across Russia where teenagers can discuss their problems without being afraid that someone else will know it.

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