Kazakhstan’s Alarmingly Excessive Suicide Fee Rises Amid Pandemic

Aqmaral tries to maintain a positive attitude and not let “problems” hold back or be driven to despair. But concentrating on the positive was not always easy for the 19-year-old student from the southern Kazakhstan province.

Two years ago, Aqmaral attempted suicide after a bitter argument with her parents who they did not meet with a boy in her class.

Aqmaral felt “humiliated” when her younger sister overheard them arguing.

“I believed nobody would understand me, so I tried to end my life on a pill overdose,” says Aqmaral. Her parents discovered her in time and took her to the hospital.

“I cherished life when I realized I was close to death,” recalls Aqmaral. “I didn’t mean to die.”

Since trying to quit, Aqmaral says that with the support of her family and many months of counseling, she has learned to “be tolerated” and to accept problems as temporary and inevitable elements of life.

Kazakhstan, an oil-rich Central Asian country with almost 19 million inhabitants, has one of the 20 highest suicide rates in the world at around 17.6 per 100,000 inhabitants.

A significant portion of these attempts have come from teenagers and people in their twenties.

The prices are much less among its neighbors: Kyrgyzstan (7.4), Tajikistan (4.3), Turkmenistan (5.7) and Uzbekistan (8).

The suicide rates in Kazakhstan were high even before the coronavirus pandemic. However, official statistics show that cases have increased in both adults and adolescents in recent months.

In the first quarter of this year, 1,625 people attempted suicide in Kazakhstan. More than 1,000 of them died.

The police say they have registered 248 suicide attempts by young people, of which 84 were fatal. That far exceeds 2020, when police reported 300 such attempts throughout the year – 144 of them fatal.

Experts say the pandemic-induced social isolation and uncertainties about the future have affected people’s mental health and may have contributed to the increase in suicide attempts. However, they point out that suicide is a complex issue with a multitude of underlying factors.

Support, understanding

Anna Kudiyarova, director of the Psychoanalytic Society of Kazakhstan, says feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, uselessness, and social exclusion are among the factors that can contribute to thoughts of suicide.

“Such feelings can cause depression,” says Kudiyarova. “The victim thinks that it is better to die than to be tormented with such thoughts. For him, suicide seems to be the only way out of what he believes is an insoluble problem.”

Experts warn that parents and teachers should watch out for sudden changes in behavior in children. (illustrative photo)

They need support from their family or other people close to them, who must approach the situation with understanding and patience, she warns.

“Children who are affected by suicidal thoughts believe that their problem is unfathomable while they are small and helpless themselves. So adults have to be patient with children,” says Kazakh psychologist Svetlana Bogatyreva.

“There is no way your problem should be ignored. Talk to them, help them sort things out, and convince them that the problem will be solved,” she says.

Aqmaral knows this from its own experience. When she was recovering from her suicide attempt in the hospital, she was relieved that her parents did not criticize her.

Instead, they tried to explain to the teenager that “life is not without its problems” and that she “needs to be patient”.

“Some people think it is easier to die than to try to solve their problem. Now I know it’s wrong, ”says Aqmaral.

“I thought it was my fault”

Tolkyn, 23, says she tried to end her own life in her late teens because she felt unable to deal with an unfounded sense of guilt.

Tolkyn was 12 when her best friend committed suicide and no one seemed to know why. Tolkyn was the last person to see her friend alive.

For years, Tolkyn was convinced that the tragedy would never have happened if she had stayed with her friend longer. She felt guilty.

She has transformed from an open-minded high performer at school “into an introverted one”. Her academic performance also suffered as a result.

Tolkyn says she never spoke to anyone about her fears.

She says “other problems, such as unrequited child love” and her unhappiness with her own appearance added to her anxiety in the years that followed.

She decided that life “wasn’t worth living” and tried to slit her wrist.

But she regretted it the moment she saw the blood.

Tolkyn survived and has since received professional help and mental support from her school and family.

“They explained to me that it wasn’t my fault that my friend ended her life,” says Tolkyn. She wants adults to be more understanding towards children.

“Adults don’t even try to understand what’s going on in a child’s mind, what problems the child is dealing with in their mind,” says Tolkyn. “Adults don’t even think it’s a problem.”

Experts warn that parents and teachers should watch out for sudden changes in behavior in children.

Sense of responsibility

Zhamal, a 30-year-old mother of three from the western city of Aqtobe, says she has thought about ending her life many times over the past five years.

Marital problems and poverty drove her into depression, she says. When she was expecting her third child, she learned that her husband had two other wives – a practice that is banned in Kazakhstan but is still surprisingly common.

When confronted, her husband told Zhamal to accept the situation or get a divorce. She left him and moved into a rented apartment where she does not receive any maintenance from her husband.

Now Zhamal sells homemade cakes, occasionally does babysitting and shoveling snow for her children, who are all between 4 and 10 years old. There is barely enough money to pay the bills. She is now also helping her disabled mother and younger sister who was diagnosed with cancer.

She says it is a sense of responsibility towards her children and elderly mother that motivates her to try to change things for the better rather than end her own life.

Zhamal is trying to learn a new skill in order to get a permanent job. She also plans to apply for social benefits and a kindergarten place for her youngest child.

She has also turned to religion to help her “get rid of suicidal thoughts forever”.

Instead, she says, she focuses on starting over in life.

Written by Farangis Najibullah with interviews conducted by the correspondents of the Kazakh service of RFE / RL, Manshuk Asautai and Zhanagul Zhursin

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