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Hungary is still among the world's leaders in suicide rates. We come fifth among the countries of the former eastern bloc. Death by hanging, poison or suffocation: increasingly, the victims are children. We spoke to specialists about the reasons behind these alarming statistics and about ways to address the situation.


"People act when their pain is greater than their fear. When I tried to commit suicide, i reached a point where I felt there was no point to anything any more," says a 19-year-old girl who attempted suicide when she was 16. "I was fat in primary school, and people teased me for it. I lost weight quickly, but I became depressive and had to go for psychiatric treatment - and then came problems in my private life," the young girl tells. Her father cheated on his wife. The girl found out but did not tell any one - making her mother angry. "Then it turned out that my mother had cancer. It's true she regarded me as an enemy, but I felt that if she disappeared, what reason did I have to live. I pondered the issue for two weeks, looking for a handhold, but I couldn't find anything. I only experienced negative influences at home. One evening I took two boxes of anti-depressive tablets - I'd been collecting them for weeks - and cut my risks. I was lucky - my father found me."

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The young girl survived, but it took months after her suicide attempt to feel firm ground beneath her feet. She went for psychiatric treatment, studied hard, and now works for a living - and is keen to complete high school. She admits that she survived a difficult period.

But there are some who are unable to overcome their problems and continue attempting suicide until they succeed.

In 2006, there were 2,460 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants in Hungary.

This is half the level of 20 years before, but significantly higher than the EU average. Lithuania leads globally, and Hungary is in fifth position, according to the Central Statistical Office. The data show that older people - in the 45-55 age bracket - are most likely to kill themselves. Three quarters of these are men. They take the most drastic measures. Most hang themselves, while suicidal women normally use poison. The next most popular approach is to jump from a high place, and then come firearms and explosives, cutting and stabbing instruments an drowning.

People who have survived a previous suicide attempt are most at risk, as are those who have a history of suicide in the family. Other risk factors include psychological disorders (like depression), alcohol or drug consumption, and problems arising from quality of life factors (low levels of education, existential crises, emotional or relationship issues).

In January, a small town in Wales attracted attention when a seventh teenager committed suicide in less than a year. Things are getting no better here. The statistics show that the number of young people between the ages of 15 and 19 attempting suicide has grown by one and a half times over the past 10 years. Why did they not ask or help? Who can people turn to if they are looking for someone to talk them out of suicide?

Dora Perczel Forintos is a clinical psychiatrist working with teenagers and children. If somebody is dealing with difficulties on their own, she says, and that person's problem-solving ability is below average, then various internal and external factors can lead that person to take their own life.

"Hopelessness is the most common cause of suicide - when somebody sees no way out. After a while, their world contracts and they start to see things in black and white, that this is the end of the world," she explains. A sense of not being needed, linked with depression and personality change, can also lead to suicide - this is the most common factor in young people. Not everyone recognises the symptoms of hidden depression. Young people do not go to the doctor, while parents often feel awkward about dealing with their children's mental problems.

In the United States, some schools have launched courses teaching pupils how to recognise signs of hidden depression among their companions, and teaching them how to help. Perczel Forintos says attempts are being made at launching similar programmes in Hungary.

Training in self-awareness and problem solving can help, helping people in crisis to deal with problems step by step. Telephone helplines can also help, she says.

Suicide websites and interactive solutions (Oldaltörés)

But then there are the suicide websites. "Does anybody know how long it takes to die from lack of oxygen?" "We're going to a city to jump from a high building." "I want it to be as easy as possible." "Do you know a quick and painless way to die with dignity?" These are just a few comments on a popular "suicide forum," whose participants discuss suicide as if they were talking about going to a more distant shop.

"I'll tell you what you'll experience if you attempt it. I haven't tried it, but I've read a lot about it," writes one person about hanging, discussing its effects in great detail. But jumping from bridges is mentioned, nicotine poisoning, alcohol poisoning, inhaling gas, medicinal overdoses. "Will I fall unconscious, or is it painful?" "Will I vomit it out?"

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Sceptics argue people on these suicide forums are just looking for attention. Some say "suicide is cowardice." But the number of young victims is growing - though there are more direct ways of getting anonymous help.

"Telephone helplines are useful for people in crisis. People can explain their problems. A conversation can help people deal with their burden," says Akos Morassi, head of the Hungarian Helpline Service Association. Demand for these helplines is increasing. The national free service is often engaged.

"In the past, we got most calls in the small hours of the morning. Now the peak has broadened - we get calls from late afternoon to dawn," Morassi says. About 5 per cent of the calls relate to suicide, while the rest relate to everyday problems like unemployment, childrearing and relationship issues. When somebody calls with thoughts of suicide, the counsellor bears a heavy responsibility. The period after holiday seasons is particularly dangerous. After Christmas or New Year, lonely people realise they are still alone, and this often leads them to call the helplines.

"This is teamwork. You don't have psychologists on the other end of the line," Morassi says. People who feel they have a gift for the work and who meet the requirements attend a training session. After four or five months, somebody can rise to become a supervisor. It takes two years to fully train someone. Continuous training is important - it is easy to burn out from working as a telephone counsellor. If a crisis call comes, the counsellor and the caller work on finding a solution together. A caller with thoughts of suicide gets another chance: he or she can decide whether or not to see the specialist recommended by the helpline.


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