Sri Lanka Sumithrayo, one of the volunteer movements doing immense service to the people without seeking self-glory or personal gain, is appealing to the people and the media to change their attitude towards suicide and the families of the victims.
At a meeting held last Monday to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, the SLS whose 100 volunteers have deep care and compassion for hundreds of people who seek counselling from them, focused on the theme of stigma.
Suicide is no longer a crime. Even the main religions have positively changed their attitude towards suicide and are more compassionate now because of the growing awareness of the heartbreak, agony and loneliness the victim would have gone through before taking the fatal step.
According to Sumithrayo, misunderstanding, ignorance and false concepts are among the factors that contribute towards the stigma which adds insult to the tragedy suffered by the family of the victim. One of these false concepts is that suicidal tendencies are hereditary and run in the family. Modern medical science has proved this is not so, though clinical depression which at times may be the cause of suicides does have some genetic connections.
To emphasise this factor, SLS volunteers staged a skit where the elder daughter of a wealthy family committed suicide as she considered herself a failure because she could not get a first class in the degree course. This is mainly due to the intensive competitive spirit and the selfish ambition subtly promoted by the false values of the globalised capitalist market economic system. Some years later, a marriage proposal came for the younger daughter and the parents of the prospective groom were happy when they were told of the high qualifications and varied talents of the girl. But before the two families met, someone told the groom’s family of the elder daughter’s suicide. The groom’s parents, acting on the false concepts decided to reject the proposal. But the positive move came from the young groom who insisted that if he liked the girl he would marry her. So it was.
SLS leaders and the World Health Organisation representative who was the chief guest appealed to the media not to sensationalise suicides but instead to report it with deep understanding and concern for the victim and the family. They appealed that even the terminology used in such reports needed to be changed while it would be useful if such reports carried the hotline number of Sumithrayo or any other group which could help those having such tendencies.
As for terminology, an appeal was made that words such as “committed suicide” be avoided since the word commit had connections with a crime. Instead it was suggested that journalists should use a new word ‘Suicided’.
Though official reports indicate that the number of suicides and attempted suicides has come down, this may not be so because most cases are now not reported to the police. More social analysts believe the number may he rising not only because of the growing competitive spirit but also the post-conflict trauma syndrome which we see in countries like the United States where in recent years there have been a number of unprecedented tragedies where mentally traumatised people have opened fire with automatic weapons on schoolchildren and others.
Sri Lanka needs to reflect deeply on this highly-complex issue and take some steps to change social attitudes and bring about more care and compassion for the victims and their families.