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Life Is Easier In Sarajevo, So Why So Many Suicide Attempts? With AM-Yugoslavia

July 15, 1994

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Peace may have come to Sarajevo, but not to many of its residents. Suicide rates are soaring among people who faced war with courage only to find they cannot deal with its aftermath.

Psychiatrists at Kosevo, Sarajevo’s main hospital, say they’re seeing seven times the number of people trying to kill themselves than during Sarajevo’s darkest days, when death from a shell or bullet could come anytime.

Sarajevans today should be far happier than just five months ago, when a cease-fire began. Since then, an illusion of normalcy has returned.

There is running water and electricity. Cafes and restaurants have reopened. People once again crowd the streets and ride in buses and trams without risk to their lives.

But appearances deceive. The elemental need to survive from one day to the next has faded with the end of shelling and sniping that made venturing outside as risky as Russian roulette.

While a blessing, the lull also means time to take stock. Some, grappling with the loss of family and friends in a war that has left more than 200,000 dead or missing, are finding life is not worth living.

Psychiatrist Zeljko Troganovic said five of every 200 patients coming to his department before the war came for therapy after attempted suicide. The number plummeted to less than one in 200 in the first year of the war, then started slowly rising in 1993.

But only after the cease-fire was declared did it blip upward past prewar levels. By March the rate was seven times that of 1992 and climbing.

″In the first year of the war, the pure overriding need was to survive,″ Troganovic said. ″People did not have a lot of time to think about suicide, and those with trivial motives realized that amid all the killing you won’t be able to draw attention to yourself by killing yourself.″

By the second year of war, people’s endurance started giving out and suicide rates started inching upward, said Troganovic. Police won’t release suicide figures, but the number of attempts reflect the rising rate.

One patient, whose daughter was killed by shelling ″would seek out the areas of worst shelling and then go for walks amid the explosions,″ Troganovic said. ″His reaction after being slightly wounded was, ’Why wasn’t I lucky enough to be killed?‴

The real crisis came with peace in February, when mourners finally got the chance to dwell on the deaths of loved ones.

The loss of a family member or special friend ″is a bigger trauma than the loss of an arm or a leg,″ Troganovic said. ″For such people, it’s very often a case of adding up everything worth living for and coming up with a zero.″

Dr. Asja Cus, who works in Kosevo’s emergency department, can empathize. After more than two years of dealing with death, she, too, is sometimes overcome by depression.

″Many of us have seen enough terrible things over the past two years to last us a lifetime,″ she said, her eyes troubled and far away. ″You can only stand blood and suffering for so long.″

She told of a soldier who had lost some family and jumped from a second- story window, damaging her spinal column and breaking her legs.

″She wasn’t happy to have stayed alive,″ Cus said. ″We had the feeling she would try again.″

Another woman, recently widowed but pregnant, was brought in with burns to 99 percent of her body. She struck a match for a cigarette, forgetting that she had turned on the gas to die.

″She gave birth to a dead child and died herself less than a day later,″ said Cus, adding that her department dealt with three such cases in a recent 15-day period.

Ramiz Hodzic, leaning on his shovel near a half-dug grave at one of Sarajevo’s dozen cemeteries, says he’s buried six suicide victims since the cease-fire began.

″Nobody came to his funeral,″ he said pointing to a freshly covered grave bare of the bright flowers bedecking the other mounds. ″Nobody could - he hung himself because all his relatives are trapped in Gorazde.″

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