September 01, 2007

Borshch For the Russian Soul



In May 2006, when President Vladimir Putin used his State of the Union speech to highlight the country’s demographic crisis – Russia is losing over 700,000 citizens a year – he mentioned road safety, bootleg alcohol and cardiovascular disease, but did not once mention the country’s number two killer after cardiovascular disease: suicide. 

Every month, thousands of desperate Russians commit suicide to escape personal agony and harsh living conditions. In January, pop star Murat Nasyrov jumped from the fifth story balcony of his luxury Moscow apartment. In February, a university student shot himself in the head outside a local museum in Petrozavodsk. In March, a 41-year-old prisoner in Voronezh hung himself with bed sheets in his jail cell. In April, a middle-aged man jumped under the wheels of a subway entering Taganskaya metro station in Moscow. In May, a 13-year-old girl jumped out of a fourth story window at Middle School Number 26 in Rostov-on-Don.

These are, of course, isolated cases. In fact, some 60,000 Russians take their life each year – approximately one suicide every 10 minutes. This gives Russia the third highest suicide rate in the world, after Lithuania and Belarus – a rate that is approximately three and a half times higher than in the U.S., according to the World Health Organization. By any measure, this is a national catastrophe. Yet, there is little or no public discussion of the issue in Russia, because suicide is a mental health issue, and mental health issues are still largely taboo here. 


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