Hope springs eternal | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Hope springs eternal

10 September, 2023

“My world ended the day my son took his life. To this day, the reason remains a mystery,” said a heartbroken mother who is still struggling to come to terms with her son’s sudden death. I met her a few years ago at a social service center where she had come to collect a pack of dry rations. Her husband had lost his mind as a result of his son’s untimely death and to make matters worse, her other son was unable to complete his higher education owing to stress and agony.

She now receives trauma counseling, but wonders if she could ever recover from the ordeal!

Yes, suicide is much more than an act of an individual and the impact it creates on families and communities is profound. Though suicides are preventable the stark truth is that every year, more than 700 000 people take their lives. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are likely more than 20 suicide attempts for every suicide. Suicide is thus a global issue, with 77 percent of all suicides occurring in low- and middle-income nations. In 2019, it was the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds worldwide.

Creating hope through action, WHO’s triennial theme for World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) from 2021 to 2023, serves as a reminder that there is an alternative to suicide and tries to instill hope and optimism in people’s hearts and minds across borders. World Suicide Prevention Day which was established in 2003 by the International Association for Suicide Prevention together with the World Health Organization aims to highlight the gravity of the issue while doing everything possible to reach out to the needy. Special programs are held annually to raise awareness among organizations, governments, and the public and most importantly to send a clear message that suicides are preventable.

Sociological views

Suicide and suicide attempts have a ripple effect on the whole community. A person is less likely to commit suicide if they are socially integrated and attached, according to eminent sociologist Emile Durkheim. Durkheim proved through his sound research, Suicide: A study in Sociology (1897) that social factors such as anomie (a feeling of aimlessness or profound unhappiness) largely influence suicidal patterns, even though any suicide appears as a personal act on the surface. He argued, citing solid data, that suicide rates show regular patterns from year to year. Modern-day change processes are so quick and forceful that they cause severe social problems, which Durkheim associated with anomie.

The International Association for Suicide Prevention is dedicated to preventing suicide and suicidal behaviour and alleviating its effects. Since suicidal behavior remains a universal challenge with millions being affected, the reduction of suicide mortality is of global importance and a vital public health consideration.

“By encouraging understanding, reaching in, and sharing experiences, we want to give people the confidence to take action. To prevent suicide requires us to become a beacon of light to those in pain. You can be the light,” the Association members extend a welcoming invitation to those who are ready to give hope to those who need it the most.

Local events

Sri Lanka Sumithrayo has planned a series of events including Webinars, awareness workshops, Walks, and leaflet distribution campaigns to mark Suicide Prevention Day.

Sri Lanka Sumithrayo Chairperson Suranjani Wickramaratne told the Sunday Observer that the stage is set for the special day with all 11 branches organising key activities.

“Each branch is doing an awareness program. We have invited experts in the field of mental health and suicide prevention to make presentations to diverse sectors. Our Panadura Branch is conducting a session at the Police Training Unit. Mawanella Branch officers will conduct an awareness program and leaflets will be distributed among the participants. There will be an awareness program in Galewela organised by the Sri Lanka Sumithrayo Matale branch,” she said.

Events and awareness programs will be held throughout the week, Wickramaratne said. Most of the programs have already started and will go on until the end of this month.

Sri Lanka Sumithraya Head office has planned a variety of activities to mark World Suicide Prevention Day. A webinar with Dr.Manoj Fernando titled Preventing Suicide Through Promoting Mental Health was held on September 9. ‘Walk with Us’, a special Suicide Prevention walk will commence from Sri Lanka Sumithrayo head office at 8 am today.

Today, Sri Lanka Sumithrayo along with many others across the world will light a candle at 8 pm (SL time) as a symbol of support for suicide prevention while also remembering those who had taken their lives

Sri Lanka Sumithrayo  Chairperson,  Suranjani Wickramaratne

Former Chairperson of Sri Lanka Sumitrayo and volunteer befriender, Kumudini De Silva

“This is the day that we make others aware that there is a day like this, and we also let others know that Sri Lanka Sumitrayo is there if they need our help. Please approach us. We will reach out to as many as possible to make Sri Lanka Sumithrayo known to them. We need to tell them that we are there for them if they need any help, at any point in their lives when they are facing a crisis. ” Wickramaratne said.

Former Chairperson of Sri Lanka Sumitrayo and volunteer befriender Kumudini De Silva said that though many suicides are preventable, the biggest question is “ Are we aware of the size of the problem? Do we take notice of these deaths by suicide?”

Creating hope through action

2023 Suicide Prevention Day theme being creating hope through action, how best can we implement this theme in Sri Lanka?, the Sunday Observer asked De Silva.

“The best thing one can have is “Hope.” Aristotle once said, “Hope is a waking dream.” Hope gives you the strength to carry on. Prevention of suicide is everyone’s responsibility. All of us have a role to play in creating a healthy and productive society.”

She emphasised that creating hope has to start from home.

“Create a happy and relaxed family environment. Give every member love, care, and respect. Teach the children the basic things such as how to take care of themselves and to talk about issues they face. Get them to do little chores and help them to grow and be independent. Never try to live your dreams through them. Guide them to choose their own path,” she emphasized.

The role of education

According to De Silva, our educational system must adopt an inclusive curriculum.

“Children should be taught life skills such as coping skills, decision-making skills, and conflict resolution skills to become a well-balanced individual. Give them space to express themselves creatively. We overload ourselves with stress. We should be able to create a healthy environment to live/work and this applies to family, school, workplace, or wherever we live. When people go to work they shouldn’t be counting the days up to the weekend to get out and be free. If there’s a happy and secure environment the productivity will automatically go up and a sense of belonging will set in,” she stressed.

De Silva said that the media whether print or digital can play a major role in preventing suicide as they can reach out to a wider section of society. She highlighted the importance of having ongoing discussions to increase awareness about the causes of suicide, harmful social beliefs and practices, child abuse, and domestic violence and addressing all types of social concerns that impact many lives in society.

“When reporting please do not dramatise, glamorise or add any heroic flavour to such news. Do not show/display pictures and describe methods. Never report news related to suicide prominently or show them repeatedly. Avoid questioning or interviewing families for details.”

Preventing suicide is a social responsibility. As mentioned above, unbearable stressful conditions drive people towards mental health problems such as depression. We all should be aware of our limits, and develop our coping abilities. It is vital to give more importance to our mental health as much as we take care of our physical health.

Collective responsibility

De Silva said that the family is the pillar of strength.

“Family unity is essential to create a very loving, caring and trusting relationship among the family members. There should be a free flow of communication. Each should have respect for the views and ideas of other family members including the children and should thereby create a sense of belonging and security. Be sensitive to changes in mood or behavioural patterns of loved ones.”

The role of schools

De Silva highlighted the communication lines among the teachers and children should be open. Respectful and healthy relationships should be maintained. Criticism or punishment should be given not to find fault, label or break the spirit, and destroy the future, but to instill a sense of responsibility and discipline.

“Allow the children to express themselves creatively. As I said earlier not only the academic lessons but life skills also should be taught to the children for them to become well-balanced and productive citizens.”


Workplaces should be happy places to be.

“It is necessary to create a warm and friendly atmosphere to work and a sense of belonging. Clear instructions should be given about the job and what is expected. Necessary training and achievable targets should be given. Safety measures and welfare measures should be provided for the staff to feel secure. Criticism/feedback should be given to correct people and not to humiliate or put them down. Fairness should be shown in dealing with every situation.”

Religious places

Religion no doubt plays a crucial role in preventing suicide. The tranquil atmosphere of places of worship is perfect for reducing stress.

“Religious places are there to speak about happiness and contentment and to teach how to be aware and mindful. Be there to help them whenever they need spiritual support. Listen and guide them when they are in distress.”

“As a society, we should be able to help people to recognise their feelings and express them. We have to acknowledge and respect others’ feelings. Better to keep our eyes and ears open to identify and help when someone is in distress. Empathetic listening and a shoulder to cry can make a world of difference,” De Silva added.

Ask for help

Just as the first African American President of the United States and Nobel Laureate Barack Obama said; “Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.’

The greatest achievement is to face any hardship and live your life to the fullest because as the saying goes “the most beautiful rocks are those that have weathered the storm.”