Nastya, he said, never showed any signs of depression. But a month before the girls died, Liza posted a message on a Russian social Web site saying she would “respect to the end the person who stayed with her to the end.”
Nastya posted this message: “What would I do without my friends?”
Anton Baranov, who is a year ahead of Nastya and Liza at School No. 8, said they would all sometimes go out together in a group of five or six kids. The school is small — each grade has only about 25 students — so of course everyone knew everyone else. Anton said the school set up a small memorial to the girls, which came down after a week. The teachers talked to their classes about the suicides, but none had noticed ahead of time that there were any problems — despite the recent truancy.
“Nobody teaches teachers how to pick up on these cases,” Severny said. An attempt to introduce mental health services at schools has been “absolutely ineffective,” he said.
“The level of trust among students toward their schools, their teachers, even psychologists in schools, is very low,” said Alla Ivanova, a researcher at the Ministry of Health. “The culture is, you don’t discuss your problems with anybody.”
‘People put up a fence’
The suicide rate is highest in the Far East and in parts of northwestern Russia, said Bertrand Bainvel, head of the UNICEF office in Moscow. It is much higher in small towns than in cities. More boys kill themselves than girls. There is not a big seasonal variation, despite the long hours of darkness in a northern winter.
A teenager beset by problems at home, or breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or trying to deal with sexual identity, goes into a tunnel, Belorusov said. His job is to try to expand the dimensions of that tunnel. He gets four or five referrals a week from Choose Life. It’s crisis intervention — e-mail exchanges that attempt to convince the adolescent on the other end that someone understands, and cares.
“So then we try to solve the problem together.”
Suicide is not impulsive, he said. First comes the idea, then a weighing of pros and cons. This, he said, is when an alert parent or teacher or friend should pick up the hints. “But people put up a fence. They don’t want to listen.”
So, like Liza and Nastya, the teenager withdraws further. The tunnel narrows. “And then the only self-realization is in the romance of the flight down,” Belorusov said. “And that’s when you go to the roof.”