- We at Sumithrayo, deal with people’s feelings daily. Our feelings and emotions are the driving forces that determine everything we do
Sri Lanka Sumithrayo is an organization that has solely dedicated itself to provide emotional support to those in distress for over four decades. In commemoration of the World Suicide Prevention Day, which falls on September 10, Sri Lanka Sumithrayo has organised an event which would be held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) with the hope of encouraging more people to reach out and seek help. Lending an ear to those in dire need, Sri Lanka Sumithrayo’s altruistic service has truly been remarkable.
Founded in 1974 by late Joan De Mel, Sri Lanka Sumithrayo is one of the most prominent helplines in the island that provides face-to-face and over the phone counselling.
Speaking with the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka Sumithrayo Chairperson Kumudini De Silva stated, “We at Sumithrayo, deal with people’s feelings daily. Our feelings and emotions are the driving forces that determine everything we do. When we meet somebody in distress, our main priority is to put them at ease, so that they would feel comfortable enough to open up to us. Our speciality is listening.
“I think it’s extremely important to be non-critical and non-judgemental, especially when it comes to sensitive issues. With empathy, care and patience, we try to build a comfort level and an environment where people would feel comfortable sharing their sorrows with us. We offer 100% confidentiality and anonymity.
“Our prime objective is to provide emotional support to those in despair and distress and bring down the number of people taking their lives. We have 10 centres throughout the country as well as a rural programme that extends to the northwestern and southern provinces. Anybody can get in touch with us through our telephone line and people can also write us letters and send emails too. If somebody is entertaining thoughts of taking his or her own life, I hope the individual realises that there is help available always. It’s only a matter of summing up the courage and reaching out to seek help.”
Speaking to Daily Mirror on the importance of patience and dialogue when it comes to handling a person in distress, Sri Lanka Sumithrayo Vice-Chairperson Hema Ranathunga added, “Sometimes what they need is somebody to listen to them with the hope of not being judged. That is exactly what we do here at Sumithrayo. We lend them an ear and they can unburden themselves without having to worry about their anonymity or confidentiality.
“I’ll make this an opportunity to also mention that it’s okay to speak about your problems. Sharing your problems with someone you trust is a very healthy outlet. It doesn’t make you a weakling. I think opening up to someone about something you’re going through shows character, as well as courage.”
Lakshmi Rathnayaka has been an integral part of Sri Lanka Sumithrayo for over four decades. Not only was she the first chairperson of Sri Lanka Sumithrayo, she is also the founder-director of the rural programme. Extending its services to Kohuwala, Kandy, Bandarawela, Matale, Kurunegala, Negombo, Panduwasnuwara, Ambalantota and Lunugamvehera in the northwestern and southern provinces, Sri Lanka Sumithrayo’s rural programme is her brainchild. A finalist at the V awards, Lakshmi’s phenomenal work has received immense recognition.
It takes a special kind of person to help others (pic - AFP)
“People who seek emotional help are branded crazy and owing to the stigma that comes with it, people choose to remain silent and endure their sufferings without letting another soul know. This mindset needs to be changed. It’s necessary to overcome the stigma that has been attached to mental illness.” said Lakshmi.
It takes a special kind of person to help others and not expect any recognition of acknowledgment in return. Taking a minute to reach out to someone, be it a family member, friend, colleague or even a stranger could positively alter the course of somebody else’s life. A little kindness goes a long way and making yourself available for someone would undoubtedly be a life-altering experience. With suicide on the rise, which reminds us of the ongoing need to improve how we treat and approach mental health, it goes without saying that encouraging conversations and addressing the recurring mental health crisis are essential as raising awareness.
Pictures by Yoshitha Perera