Financial despair and clinical depression have kept adult suicide rates high -- in Greece, for example, a 50 percent spike in suicides has been attributed to the country's crippling economic crisis. But when it comes to teenage suicides, it's the former Soviet Union that leads the pack, with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan traditionally rating among the worst countries in the world.
The issue is receiving particular attention in Kazakhstan which despite its relative wealth -- per capita GDP is more than $11,000, and average salaries are a healthy $670 a month -- has seen a precipitous rise in the number of young people committing suicide.
Authorities in the Central Asian country say the overall number of suicides has dropped since the chaos of the 1990s, when 20-25 suicides per 100,000 people were registered each year. (The World Health Organization currently ranks Kazakhstan as the fifth-worst place for suicides, based on its statistics from 2008.)
That number has since dropped to 19. But in the two decades that have passed, teenagers have begun to account for a larger portion of the deaths. Of the approximately 3,000 suicides recorded in Kazakhstan in 2012, roughly 200 were minors.
'We Need To Do More'
Sergei Sklyar, a child psychiatrist and suicide expert, says the new information age, with its dependence on mobile phones, computers, and social media -- is at least partly to blame. "Everything is changing very quickly," he tells RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. "A young person today receives 100 times more information than he did 20 years ago. It's only natural that this will trigger more failures in their nervous systems."
The solution, he says, is not less information, but better guidance on how to absorb and filter it. "Our teens and youths aren't always getting their facts from the best sources," says Sklyar. "This can include the mass media and its coverage of the issue of suicide."
Sklyar says Kazakh authorities have been diligent about putting safety nets in place. All neighborhood polyclinics and schools are now required to keep a psychologist on staff, and the country's 150 emergency hotline is prepared, at least theoretically, to help connect emotionally distraught callers to local support organizations.
"This is something that's worse in developing areas, but it's fairly widespread in Almaty and Astana," says Sklyar, who also urges Kazakhs to focus on the solution rather than the dilemma. "Suicide is an important problem, but there are many other important problems as well. If we want the number of suicides to go down we need to do more than just talk about suicide -- we need to talk about where to get help."
-- Manshuk Asautai & Daisy Sindelar