Suicide: Lankan society on razor’s edge | Sunday Observer

Suicide: Lankan society on razor’s edge

16 September, 2018
Depths of despair
Depths of despair

According to recent statistics published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) more than three quarters of suicides and suicide attempts are reported in low and middle income countries. In other words, that’s us. In 1995, Sri Lanka ranked as the world’s highest in suicides, recording 45 suicides per every 100,000 deaths. However, after a long and a difficult journey Sri Lanka has shown much improvement from being number one to coming down to somewhere between 22 and 26 at the moment, where 15.5 suicides are reported in 100,000 deaths.

Are we safe?

However, it is clear that we are still not safely out of the woods. Suicides and attempts at suicide are not far away from our lives. It has become a common problem in the country. Especially, as a country which went through a tough war time, the anxiety, depression built over war could be driving forces behind suicides.

On the other hand ‘unhappiness’ among people , have lead some whose coping capacity is weak,to believe that there’s no other option left for them other than taking their own lives. A society or rather a country fallen to such a level, necessarily should be rescued by an integrated program.

The Sri Lanka Police reported in their statistics that 3,263 suicides had occurred last year. Out of this number 2,586 are males, which is sometimes hard to believe. Three hundred and twenty five cases have been reported in the age group of 70 plus which is the highest age group in terms of suicides. Next is the age group between 26 to 30 with 300 cases.

A nation about to explode

Film actress Anoja Weerasinghe who was once at the peak of her life as a caring and compassionate star, also faced difficulties in her life. She readily spoke to the Sunday Observer about her own experiences and about what she learnt during all these years especially after several attempted suicides.

“In fact nobody wants to die. Therefore, we should look at why these people want to die. On one hand, the majority of the people are Buddhists. Lord Buddha has clearly told us that the mind is central to everything” she said.

There was a high time where suicides were very common among the soldiers. Understanding the core reasons behind their mental breakdown,Anoja conducted some yoga programmes for the betterment of their lives, with the help of top Army and Navy officials.

“That was the true reconciliation I saw with my own eyes. The Army soldiers and ex LTTE combatant were doing yoga together. A few of the former military persons and present Navy Commander Adm. Sirimevan Ranasinghe, Jaffna Army Commander Major Gen.Dharshana Hettiarachchi and HQ Major Gen.Ajith Kariyakarawana helped me a lot to achieve it”.

“What politicians do is bark at the other side on television. That’s all they do. Most of them don’t see the problems on the ground or at grass root level. No remedies in sight for burning issues in the country. So, people lose hopel. In my opinion our country, our society is a volcano now. It’s about to explode. Then only would people realise the danger of the journey we’ve been heading towards”.

As a nation, that has faced three decades of war, two youth insurrections and thousands of disappearances have still not understood the importance of lifting up the mental conditions of our people. Some isolated individual efforts by people like Anoja, cannot uplift the entire system. They need support and an integrated mechanism to work on.

Rashmi, a graduate fresh from the University of Jayewardenepura says that aroud 200 psychology graduates are passing out each year from her university and the University of Peradeniya .“Honestly we do not get appropriate job opportunities. My batch mates are mostly engaged in jobs belonging to other disciplines. Initially, we thought of getting some opportunities in the Human Resources field. But it’s not practical. So we had to go for some other options” says the 22 year old girl, who is now working for an Non- Governmental Organisation.


When we hear the word suicide, Sumithrayo could be the next best thing that comes to our mind. They have done a marvellous job during last decades in order to prevent suicides and especially introducing a 365 day Open Helpline with the support of hundreds of volunteers or rather ‘befriends’ as stated in their glossary.

“Scientists have coined a word called “biophycosocial” which stands for Biological, Phycological and Sociological environment factors which affect suicides” says Jomo, who is a pioneer at Sumithrayo.

“There is a lot of background to it. These people don’t want to die really. Initial self-harming is also a one part of it. Suicide is moving it to a next level. There is this important factor which is under reported or not reported at all, which is the stigma around suicides. For instance, if there is a suicide case in a family and if there’s a girl of marriageable age, nobody wants to marry that girl. Thus, he showed a different angle of suicide.

“The other part of the story is the bereavement of the family members. When a suicide occurs the family gets isolated. Nobody would come forward and openly talk about it. A wall of silence is around the family. If they couldn’t cope with it, even they would tend to commit suicide”.

A support system is vital

Surangi, another pioneer volunteer at Sumithrayo talked about the importance of having a good support system to prevent potential suicides.

“Support at home is significant. Who knows you most, who sees you most. If they dismiss you where do you go? So, the support system should start right there” she explained.

Also irresponsible reporting on suicide can have very damaging consequences. Researches show that inappropriate reporting of suicide may lead to imitative or ‘copycat’ behaviour.

However, understanding the importance in the mass media in preventing suicides, WHO has declared this year ‘s theme with special focus on media.

“Copycat suicides is another issue we are fighting. Some TV stations and even some press show pictures of people hanging, and finally giving ideas to the vulnerable people. So, the behaviour of media is unpardonable! I kindly request all media that if you’re reporting suicides, think about the vulnerable people and also please give the helpline number at the bottom of the article. So you may be saving a life even without your knowledge” said Jomo. 

Help line- Sumithrayo -0112696666/ 0112692909