Bleak Facts about teen suicide in Kazakhstan

I shared the other day some statistics of teenage suicide in Kazakhstan which our guest speaker from UNICEF shared with my Professional Development class.  These are startling figures and sadly behind every number there is a grieving family who asks the question WHY?  My own students waxed philosophical on this distressing issue.  The following are the questions we ALL should be asking:

“I was shocked to learn that Kazakhstan is on the 1st place by the suicide rate among teenagers. I wonder what reason force young people to kill themselves? The right of life is considered to be the main human right. Why do young people who have the whole life in front of them deprive themselves of this right?”

My Kazakh students are educators of young people, so they feel the pain acutely.  They know that they might be a small part of the solution to this problem that has gripped Kazakhstan.  I was told by one older educator that suicide is considered a “growing disease” or “growing pain” of a developing country such as Kazakhstan.

This same person told me that on the news she hears every week how many teen suicides are happening in the Semipalatinsk area.  Many disabilities and deformities have resulted due to that area in eastern Kazakhstan that was used for maybe 30-40 years during the Soviet period, as a nuclear testing site.  We learned from our speaker that there are not adequate funds to help rehabilitate those with disabilities or provide orphanages for them. Even in many village schools, there are not enough resources to help educate the “normal” children.  In any case, that might be where the high frequency of suicide deaths are occurring to bring Kazakhstan ahead of Russia in preventable and avoidable suicide deaths.

Another factor to consider would be that the Kazakh children of 19 years old are those who were born during the critical time of the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Their parents had been assured jobs in the collectives or factories but that was all stripped away and so the parents who had young children had to fight to survive during this calamitous and chaotic time.  Their parents did not get an education and so either these children who commit suicide have no model of how their parents worked in a regular job OR they were living in poverty and could not afford education.  Either way, there seems little hope for these youngsters to improve their lot in the villages of Kazakhstan.  Thus, to solve their problem they believe suicide will remedy the hopeless state.

Something else that was mentioned in our discussion among my mature Kazakh students is that some of these children who commit suicide come from wealthy homes.  In this case, the parents work very hard and put in long hours to have the nice house, car and all the material things they couldn’t have during communism.  In some cases, the busy parents are flying off to Turkey or China to buy goods but leave their children unattended to dabble in different things that are not healthy for them.

Some Kazakh children despair that they might not pass the national exam.  Here is what one of my students wrote:

“One of the main reasons is the National Test that the students take while graduating the 11th grade, because their teachers always say that if they don’t pass it they won’t enter any university or even get a certificate about the graduation (we call it “attestat”), and parents say that in case their child doesn’t get enough points on the test they won’t pay for his studies, he has to earn for his livings himself. That’s why they loose their interest and hope in life if they fail.”

Another of my students wrote this:

That’s why I feel upset to see my country showing the highest suicide rates among 15-19 year old adolescents, especially among women. Yesterday we discussed about the reasons that force them to commit suicide. As one of my group mates said most of them are from wealthy and normal families, so I wonder why they commit such things.

No easy answers, but it could be that there is much bullying that goes on at Kazakh schools.  Older students pick on younger, smaller students and hustle them for money.  Maybe the child is not as smart and needs another smarter student to help him with getting good marks on an exam.  There could be a plethora of scenarios of what is played out in the school playground with the bullying problem.  I’m thinking that Central Asia perhaps has felt bullied by other bigger nations and this is just a symptom of that on a micro level.  The “kick the cat” problem where social needs are not taken care of within the home and it leaks into society or, in other words, the lack of civil society.

I’m thinking of how the Mafia game has taken over as a kind of “fun” and cheap distraction for young people to play where there is an assigned killer and always a victim.  There’s a fortune teller and a witch.  These are dark subjects for some so young who want to do better for the sake of their country.   But I’m getting into another topic that needs to be explored.  Perhaps one Saturday night I will sit around with this age group and play “Mafia” to see what is going on.

Yes, growing pains is right in more ways than one when considering the terrible facts of suicide among teenagers in Kazakhstan.

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