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They need you to escape from the tunnels of despair

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Sometimes you would feel that the world has stood still. It could be due to the loss of a loved one, job or any other reason that would deplete all your energies. We like to view things positively, but sometimes a few of us don’t have all the courage to do so. World Suicide Prevention Day for 2017 drew to an end last Sunday. But the issue isn’t solved yet. Public dialogue, intervention and policy decisions need to be implemented and vulnerable groups need to be identified and approached. Hence, there’s more work to be done in terms of keeping people employed, strengthening social relationships and preventing them from being isolated.   

Several of these matters were discussed at a press conference held recently in view of World Suicide Prevention Day. The panelists were 

Sri Lanka Sumithrayo Chairperson Kumudini De Silva, Kalubowila Teaching Hospital Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Malika Weerasinghe and  University of Colombo Senior Professor and Sociologist Siri Hettige.

“Join Sri Lanka Sumithrayo and help change a life” 
-Kumudini De Silva 

In her opening remarks Sri Lanka Sumithrayo Chairperson Kumudini De Silva, said that a better public dialogue is needed to address the topic of suicide. “Close to one million people commit suicide and that means even at this moment, there are people attempting it or have already been killed. In 1985 Sri Lanka topped the suicide list, but lately we have been relegated to fourth place according to the latest statistics. But we can’t be happy about this rank as well. As a society that speaks a lot about health issues. We need to speak more and raise awareness on depression. Suicide is a complex problem and many factors come in to account and these include social, biological, environmental and psychological reasons. Back in 1974, Joan De Mel, a member of ‘Samaritans’ for over 12 years, wanted to relieve those who consider suicide as an option and hence opened the first Befrienders International/ Samaritans worldwide branch and named it Sri Lanka Sumithrayo. Today we have over 10 branches in Sri Lanka. We offer services to rural communities as well. We have observed that the tendency to commit suicide is higher in rural communities and we are happy to extend our services to them. We have an office in Jaffna as well because there are people who are traumatized by the war,” she said. 


Speaking further De Silva said that the services offered by Sri Lanka Sumithrayo are absolutely free, but the volunteer service is quite challenging. “It’s difficult to obtain human resources and we would like to invite those interested to join us and help someone to change a life. We don’t have time for others. But if someone wants to talk to you, but you don’t have time and eventually that person decides to commit suicide, you will later regret. So join with us and help change a life,” said De Silva.

“Social problems have no medication” 
-Prof. Siri Hettige  

University of Colombo Senior Professor and Sociologist Siri Hettige said in this age of technology everything could be obtained at the click of a button. “Suicide has a pattern. Family problems, poverty, socio-economic issues, chronic illnesses, relationships and alcoholism are a few reasons. If we take social relationships, we know that females don’t take as much alcohol as males and therefore it’s a protective factor. When males get together they consume alcohol and here we see that social integration is poor. This is one of the causes of isolation. Unemployed people are another vulnerable group because they are helpless. Doctors usually treat the root cause of any condition, but in this case we see only the tip of the iceberg. 

Suicide has a pattern. Family problems, poverty, socio-economic issues, chronic illnesses, relationships and alcoholism are a few reasons.


There’s a greater population hiding behind doors simply because of stigma and cultural boundaries. Social problems have no medication and suicide has multiple causations. We need to take a policy decision to address this issue and intervention is required in many levels especially through socio-economic strategies. There are many FM channels, TV stations, newspapers and other mediums that exist and given such a set-up how can we develop a concentrated public discourse? Many things need to be done, but when social bonds erode, suicide and other social issues become abundant,”opined Prof. Hettige. 

“Everyone wouldn’t have a good problem-solving mind-set”
- Dr. Malika Weerasinghe

Kalubowila Teaching Hospital Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Malika Weerasinghe, who is specialized in Clinical and Adolescent psychiatry, said that the numbers exceed 15 cases when comparing the situations in 1995 and 2016. “In 1995, there were 47 cases of suicide in every 1,000,000 people, but in 2016 it has reduced to 28. But still that is a high rate. Although we only speak about suicide, we also have to focus on the cases of attempted suicide. Hence it’s important to take cases of poisoning and self-inflicted harm too into account. Reasons such as family conflicts, relationship issues, work place issues, exams and even anger and shame could make someone helpless. As a result people may have weaker coping strategies and would think of alternatives such as consuming alcohol and may develop psychological conditions such as depression. This is mainly because everyone doesn’t have a good problem-solving mind-set. Some people may have borderline personality disorders, Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), depression and other complications. Suicide could happen due to psychological problems or trauma. During the recent past we also saw an increase in teen suicide rates and this is mainly due to copycat syndrome. Sometimes it could also be considered an epidemic,” Dr. Weerasinghe said. 

During the recent past we also saw an increase in teen suicide rates and this is mainly due to copycat syndrome. Sometimes it could also be considered an epidemic


Elaborating on what could be done in order to prevent people from developing suicidal thoughts Dr. Weerasinghe said that skills development should be commenced from childhood. “This in turn would help people to control their anger because they can be occupied. In addition to that people should be trained on effective problem solving, self-esteem development and even developing strong interpersonal relationships. Parents have a big role to play in shaping their children’s life and therefore have to develop a stronger connection with each other. Emotional intelligence is another aspect that needs to be given more attention. If you think you have a problem don’t be afraid to talk about it. It necessarily doesn’t have to be someone at Sri Lanka Sumithrayo, but if you have close friends or a relatives, do talk to them. Depression aggravates from mild to a severe condition and in such an instance anybody would feel helpless. It’s also important to be non-judgmental in this situation because the moment you judge they would feel even more helpless. There’s a cultural stigma attached to psychological problems especially in Sri Lanka and therefore we have to help them step out of their sorrows,”Dr. Weerasinghe added. 

 

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