Young spirits dying in Russia

Here we go again. It's time to chase another ghost. In this case there is a slim possibility that the following tragic story from Russia contains no real religion angle whatsoever. It's possible, but I doubt it.

What this Washington Post story does contain is tons of loaded words surrounding the climate in Russia that is leading to a hellishly high number of teen suicides. Pay close attention to the summary paragraph in this following chunk of the story:

Russia has the third-highest teenage suicide rate in the world, just behind its neighbors Belarus and Kazakhstan and more than three times that of the United States. On an average day, about five Russians under age 20 take their own lives.

Psychiatrists and health experts here know why it happens. Alcohol abuse, domestic violence and rigid parenting all play a role. Too many parents expect unquestioning obedience. Social conformity is strictly enforced, especially outside the big cities. Isolation is a huge problem in such a large country. There’s rarely anywhere to turn for help -- but even if there were, families would be unlikely to admit their failings to outsiders.

Suicide is an attempt to seek relief from all that, by taking charge.

The key question, for me, is clear: What is the root cause of this "rigid parenting"? Moments later readers are given a hint -- maybe.

In the Soviet era, suicide was considered an affront to the state, the failure of a citizen to fulfill his responsibility. Psychiatry was more often associated with punishment than with therapy, and that left a stigma and mistrust of mental health care that persists. And, while championing the collective, the Soviets destroyed the old Russian sense of community. Bullying is everywhere. And so is loneliness.

Somewhere in here I expected one of two kinds of references to religion in modern Russia. It would be perfectly valid to say that Russia remains an intensely secular nation, even though there are intense flickers of reborn faith as well. It would also, I assume, be possible to argue that "rigid parenting" out in the sticks is linked either to the culture of Orthodoxy (rural areas tend to be more devout than urban) or "traditional" values.

As you would expect, I am curious about that.

However, it appears that the subject of young people battling despair, hopelessness and suicide is not one that raises religious issues at the Post. I mean, other than this one reference, in a section of the story focusing on the current high suicide statistics.

It seems like an epidemic, but in fact it’s the usual state of affairs. (The official statistics may undercount the suicide death toll by as much as 25 percent.) The media attention, unfortunately, lends a certain glamour to the act, said Sergei Belorusov, a psychotherapist and volunteer for a church-run Web site called Choose Life, which counsels those seeking help.

“At this age they don’t have a concept of death,” he said. “A teenage suicide is a message. They often think there’s something heroic about it. But they also think there’s a start-over button somewhere.”

"Choose Life" does have a rather religious ring to it. The odds are good that the program would have a religious component.

Also, in the Russian context, the term "church-run" would lead readers to assume that we are talking about Orthodox Christianity. Assuming something, however, is not something that journalists are supposed to do. Perhaps a few more words of information were in order?

After all, this "Choose Life" organization ends up playing a central role in the story, offering a thread of hope in an otherwise bleak story. And, I might add, if this is in fact an Orthodox organization, that would imply that one of the most symbolic (and at times powerful) organizations in Russia recognizes the seriousness of this issue.

Of course, church involvement would also imply that this issue has a moral and spiritual dimension. That would imply that, just maybe, this story should have contained a moral and spiritual dimension.

Just saying.

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