The 10th of September is set apart by the United Nations as World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), in recognition of the increasing numbers of our brethren who take their lives in desperation – they see no way to overcome problems they face.
Suicide is a global phenomenon, and studies in 2016 revealed, 79% of suicides occurred in low and middle-income countries. Suicides also account for 1.4 per cent of all deaths worldwide, making it the 18th leading cause of death in 2016. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 800,000 people commit suicide every year. That is, one person every 40 seconds.
The UN also records that low and middle-income countries in WHO’s South-East Asian region – home to 25.9% of the world’s population – account for 39.1 per cent of suicides around the world.
CNN reports neighbouring India has one of the highest suicide rates in the world – 17 per 100,000 persons. According to World Population Review website, though Sri Lanka is no longer among the five countries having the highest suicide rates, it was ranked 29th worldwide, with a suicide rate of 14.6 per 100,000, in 2019.
Whilst there was a decreasing trend of suicides in Sri Lanka until 2010, thereafter there has been an increase in the suicide rate which continued up to 2018. Statistics also reveal a significantly higher rate of suicides among males in this country than among females. By 2018, hanging oneself as a mode of suicide was the most common method, followed by drinking insecticides and/or pesticides.
However, not much attention has been paid to suicide rates of other age categories such as the elderly population. Studies carried out by WHO in 2017 has shown a rise in the suicide rate among the elderly. Police statistics reveal disappointment and frustration caused particularly due to failed love affairs, is one of the main causes of suicide.
Percentage-wise in Sri Lanka, Tamils 32.04 percent followed by Sinhalese 19.38 per 100,000 respectively comprise the highest rates among victims of suicide. However suicides among Muslims is comparatively lower.
While there has been a decreasing trend of suicides in the country, the avenues of help offered to would-be suicides are negligible. Government itself has offered little or no helplines to would-be suicides. The task has been left to private groups and individuals. A particular Non Government Organisation which operates in a number of areas in the country and promotes itself as a suicide help-line; when contacted by the ‘Daily Mirror’ on Monday evening at just after 16.20 hours, informed us that we should call the following day.
When pressed the operator informed us that the office closes by 16.30 hrs. She either did not understand the meaning of ‘hotline’, was not adequately trained or could not be bothered.
A sad tale for people claiming to provide a life-line to persons on the brink of committing suicide... and a worse experience for the caller.
Another centre operating a hotline put us on hold. But then, with around 12 persons dying by suicide daily in Sri Lanka according to ‘CCCline’, it isn’t surprising the lines were busy.
What the experience does indicate however, is that facilities available are inadequate and that training of persons who ‘man’ these important switchboards need to be improved.
It is more important that government takes more responsibility toward its citizens; especially the more vulnerable sections – people under mental stress. Looking after the needs of vulnerable persons requiring emotional support and guidance, is not the duty of private bodies. These needs cannot be left to Non Govermant Organisations (NGOs), despite the important role these bodies play in attempting to fill areas of need where government has been found wanting toward fulfilling its obligations to society.
In today’s situation where the coronavirus pandemic has thrown thousands of families out of employment, where many more thousands employed in the private sector are forced to make do on half-salary, where the farming community is literally drowning in debt, thousands of counsellors are needed to provide emotional support to these victims of social injustice. Yet, there are thousands upon thousands of unemployed graduates who could easily be trained as Counsellors to help people, in their hour of need.
While in the city of Colombo and a few main cities in the periphery, NGOs may provide a limited service to vulnerable folk, by and large, these services are unavailable in rural areas. Cannot government make use of the large body of educated unemployed young people to meet this desperate need rather than dumping them into already over-staffed government offices?