Lending an ear is all it takes to save a life!
As life goes on, various barriers are thrown at its path. Some challenges may be easy to meet while others may demand an extra effort to overcome.
In the heat of frustration, when one is unable to think clearly, a wrong decision might be made. This is the story behind every deliberate attempt to end a life. Problems can push us to our limits. Sharing our worries is the key to coping up with burdens. Listening to someone’s troubles is the door to saving a life!
Over the years there has been much scrutiny about Sri Lanka’s ‘increasing’ suicide rate. However statistics reveal that in reality the suicide rate has been rapidly descending. The Daily Mirror approached specialists in various fields to discuss this issue under different perspectives, to create awareness about suicide and accentuate the value of life.
“It’s common in our part of the world to consider psychiatric problems as a sign of failure”
- Dr. Lushan Hettiarachchi
A person’s mental health and suicide are always co-related. Dr. Lushan Hettiarachchi, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist of the National Institute of Mental Health, Angoda, spoke to the on the factors that lead to a mentality which harbours suicidal thoughts. “Mental disorders, substance use disorders, personality styles predispose a person to commit suicide,” he warned.
Mental disorders are one of the main reasons that give rise to suicidal attempts. “Depression is the most significant cause leading to suicidal thoughts. Depression is very common. One in four people suffer from depression. It will be the leading morbidity in near future.” Dr. Hettiarachchi stated.
“Sudden loss of expectations, desperation and frustration, loss of a loved one, relationship breakups and exam failures also contribute to suicidal thoughts,” said Dr. Hettiarachchi. Media portraits given on suicides too have made a significant contribution towards the increase in suicidal ideations and attempts. According to him some reports promote suicidal behaviour rather than discouraging such acts.
“It is common in our part of the world to consider psychiatric problems as signs of failure. Hence, people may be reluctant to seek help. Sri Lankans don’t talk about their mental and emotional issues, especially men. Suicide is more common among men. Western reports state that incidents of suicide are higher in the 15-25 age group. This is no different in Sri Lanka,” said Dr. Hettiarachchi.
Mental health literacy is not satisfactory in Sri Lanka. People are not aware of how to recognise a problem or where they could obtain help and services. “It’s wise to seek help from a qualified doctor when you have a problem. Doctors can assess your problem and recommend treatment or management plans,” advised Dr. Hettiarachchi.
“If suicidal ideation arises due to trivial problems, that a person faces in day today life, then the person may benefit from counselling. Counselling should focus on problem solving and endurance,” he said. Most of the General and Base hospitals have qualified experts to handle these situations.
“People should have a clear idea that help is available. Service providers should be non-judgmental yet be empathetic towards the problem. The person suffering should be given hope. Currently these messages are given to general public through posters, newspaper articles and awareness programs. There are few befriending telephone lines available for any person to call free of charge at any time of the day,” Dr. Hettiarachchi elaborated.
Making a rational decision on how to face a critical situation, from where and whom we can seek help when having a problem, conflict resolution and assertiveness etc are some skills that need to be taught early in school life, Dr. Hettirachchi went on to state.
“Sri Lanka is recognized globally for having reduced its suicides by 70% but this is not much known or appreciated within our country!”
- Nalaka Gunawardene
Nalaka Gunawardene, science writer and media researcher, aired his views on the connection between social media and suicide. “Humans are complex beings who are exposed to multiple factors. There simply isn’t research evidence yet to show that the rising use of social media is contributing to suicide deaths in Sri Lanka,”said Gunawardene.
“It is very difficult to determine a specific causative factor or phenomenon of suicide. Researchers say that it’s an accumulation of factors that increases an individual’s vulnerability to suicide.” he continued.
He further said that we need to be very careful in exposing the link between a particular factor and a person’s suicide.
Citing the statistics he said, “Sri Lanka has experienced major changes in its suicide rates since the 1970s, and by 1995 it had one of the highest rates in the world. There were 8,514 reported suicide deaths that year, but since then it has come down significantly: there were 3,025 suicide deaths reported in 2016. Having peaked at 57 suicides per 100,000 people in the 1990s, the latest rate is 17 per 100,000”.
“Sri Lanka is recognized globally for having reduced its suicides by 70%, but this isn’t much known or appreciated within our country!” he added.
“Mental isolation has become the aftermath of technology and modernization”
- Prof. Daya Amarasekera
Prof. Daya Amarasekera of the Sociology Department, University of Peradeniya, when contacted said that social issues provide the base for suicidal issues. “Today Sri Lanka is identified as a modernizing nation. Mental isolation has become the aftermath of technology and modernization, that dominates our lives. Though we may be surrounded by many faces, people still feel isolated within,” he said.
The professor explained that lives have become more centred on gaining wealth, power and status. “Education is one certain aspect that verifies the competitiveness that exists in society. From the grade 5 scholarships to higher education in Universities, students are placed under pressure. The inability to succeed in achieving their goals and getting left out, results in emotional conflict in these young minds,” he stressed.
Prof. Amarasekera went on to say that the internet and various media have misled audiences to engage in inappropriate behaviour and misconduct. This has resulted in luring the youth towards wrong doings.
As a solution to reducing the risk of suicide attempts, the most important thing is to strengthen human relationships and prevent mental isolation. “Social relationships have to be strengthened. An undeniable gap exists between parents and children. In schools, teachers and students have to share a close relationship. The teachers should develop a relationship that is open and friendly; one that allows easy communication with students,” the professor explained.
“Although the rate has dropped the attempts at suicide are still very high”
Speaking to Sumithrayo, an organization focussed on suicide prevention, the Daily Mirror learned that the suicide rates aren’t increasing, but in fact decreasing.
“There have been recurring suicides in the past few months, but when you look at the Police Department Statistics the rate has dropped. Even though, according to the WHO we are the 4th highest when it comes to suicide, but this is not true. In reality we should be in 22nd or the 24th place.
We are urging them (WHO) to make this change, but the correction is still to be made,” representative from Sumithrayo, who spoke on terms of anonymity, said. “Although the rates have dropped the attempts at suicide are still very high. These fact can be observed through hospital records, police records, records held by rural centres and health centres.
This is due to the preventive measures taken by the Government and also because people have improved greatly. Infrastructure has improved and there is greater awareness in hospitals and in the public and there is also pesticide control etc.” the representative said.
Speaking of signs that someone who is contemplating would give, the representative said, “They like to be isolated, are lonely, act in a depressing manner and might be heard saying something like ‘I am fed up of life’. We should take the time to listen to people’s problems and help them through this difficult experience,” the Sumithrayo representative added.
Devoted to responding to people in crisis and preventing suicide, focusing on empathetic active listening and non-judgmental responses, Sumithrayo volunteers endeavour to take every person in crisis seriously. The goal of their befriending is to empower the caller to make life-enhancing choices.
Sumithrayo provides Confidential Emotional Support and is a free service, open 365 days (including holidays) – from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Please call: 011-2692909, 011-2683555 or 011-2696666. Visit: 60B, Horton Place, Colombo 7. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org