Macedonia: Suicide on the Rise

Poverty and post-war stress are driving more people to take their own lives.

Macedonia: Suicide on the Rise

Poverty and post-war stress are driving more people to take their own lives.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

The man on top of the 80-metre-high dam in southern Macedonia felt he had nothing left to live for. Reflecting on the loss of his job, which had left him unable to support his wife and two children, the man identified only as N.N. decided to end it all - and jumped.

Luckily, he survived the fall from the Tikves power plant dam in Kavadarci and is now undergoing psychiatric treatment. Many others affected by the mood of suicidal depression currently sweeping the poverty-stricken country are not so fortunate.

Over the past 20 months, the number of suicides in Macedonia has risen by a third compared with the corresponding period before 2001. Analysts blame economic hardship and post-conflict trauma.

Interior ministry spokesman Vojislav Zafirovski said that over the past two years 367 people - 266 men and 101 women - committed suicide in Macedonia, a country of 2.1 million. This is an increase of 30 per cent.

The suicide numbers rise sharply in the poorer regions, where residents earn less than the average salary or pension of 100 euro a month. Out of a potential workforce of 850,000, some 350,000, roughly 37 per cent, are registered as unemployed. Those with a job are only marginally better off, as tens of thousands have not received their salaries for months.

Zafirovski said economic problems outweigh all other reasons for suicide, including those of people with incurable diseases. Psychiatrist Vesna Atanasova, who owns a private clinic in Skopje, agreed. "The main motive for suicide is poverty," she told IWPR

For seven months last year, armed conflict raged between Macedonian government forces and Albanian rebels led by the National Liberation Army, NLA. While the casualty numbers, about 200 killed, are small compared with other recent Balkan wars, trauma is still widespread among the 8,000 people, mostly ethnic Macedonians, who remain displaced from their homes.

"Suicide is an aggressive act inflicted on oneself," said Stanislav Petkovski, a specialist in medical psychology in Skopje who has worked in family therapy for many years. "The war, combined with poverty, have promoted aggression as a form of resolving both exterior and interior psychological conflicts."

Petkovski conducted research on the psychological state of ethnic Macedonians at the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002. Using a sample of 1,000 interviewees in five towns, he found the most common feelings among the population were anger, fear and hopelessness.

"Unfortunately, they mark the beginning of a psychological spiral that incites violence that sometimes is directed against themselves," Petkovski said.

Skopje psychiatrist Edip Shei believes age is an important factor. "Analysis has shown that, in the last 25 years, suicide among adolescents has increased threefold," he said.

A recent report by the Crises Situations Centre, which operates within the psychiatric clinic at the state hospital in Skopje, concluded that suicide is the third most common cause of death among young people aged between 15 and 24.

Shei described the case of 16-year-old T.N. from Skopje, whose parents decided to separate for a while because of financial hardship. After their separation, the son refused to communicate with his parents and moved in with grandparents.

Soon afterwards, he fell in with bad company and ran into problems with the police. When one day his grandmother's wallet went missing, T.N. was the main suspect - with the result that he attempted to kill himself with a knife. Fortunately, he did not succeed and now is recovering in hospital.

Shei also points out that people with war traumas also need help. "The state should provide psychiatric centres for rehabilitation in the regions most affected by last year's conflict," he said.

Irfan Agushi is a journalist at the Albanian-language daily newspaper Fakti in Skopje

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