"There have been an average 60,000 suicides in Russia every year over the last 12 years, and all of them could have been stopped," Tatyana Dmitriyeva, director of the Serbsky Social and Forensic Psychiatry Research Center, told a news conference ahead of World Mental Health Day, October 10.
She said that although about 20% of suicides are mentally ill, there are moments in human life when a person is prone to take the final step in a certain state of mind.
"We cannot say that [Soviet-era poets] Mayakovsky, Yesenin and Tsvetayeva were mentally ill, can we?" she said.
Ironically, the Serbsky institute was once notorious for its use of psychiatry against dissidents, diagnosing those who spoke out against the Soviet system as mentally ill.
Worldwide, Dmitriyeva said, Russia ranks second after Lithuania in the number of suicides. "The figure is 34.9 people per 100,000."
She said people aged 45-55 and teenagers were the groups at greatest risk, and that the Koryak Autonomous Area in the Far East, the Komi Republic in northeastern European Russia and Udmurtia in the Volga region topped the list of suicide regions. She said suicide was rare in the Caucasus.
The expert attributes such regional diversification to religious reasons. "The Orthodox Church does not have a deep influence in the republics of Komi, Mari El and Udmurtia [with a large Ugro-Finnic population], where pagan beliefs have persisted and crossing the threshold between life and death is considered a proud and brave act," Dmitriyeva said.