Out of harm’s way | Daily News
World Suicide Prevention Day falls on September 10:

Out of harm’s way

There are many reasons to commit suicide, but the natural question remains: why are some people able to cope with life and others unable to do so? Some people have gone through hell in life but are strong and leading productive and relatively happy lives. Others who have faced similar situations just give up and commit suicide. Why they are simply unable to cope is due to many reasons. But again why are some people able to cope while others fail? That is the bone of contention here. But what is evident so far is that people need to talk about what they are going through and not keep it inside of them.

Daily News attended a Responsible Media Reporting in Helping Suicide Prevention conference at Mel Medura by Sumithrayo where the topic was discussed keenly by the Sumithrayo Volunteers.

The need to express your feelings is in no way a weakness. If you think that wearing your heart on the sleeve will allow others to manipulate you and puts you in a vulnerable position, then, by all means, speak to someone you can trust, or approach someone qualified to help you like Sumithrayo.

This creates awareness about suicide.

Sumithrayo Volunteer Jomo spoke about the fact that in Sri Lanka the suicide rate amongst males is very much higher than that amongst females. The society expects males not to talk about their feelings. The males are compelled to bottle it all up. Here the media can play a very important and positive role raising awareness about suicide as a health issue.

Suicide is preventable and the media can play a role in reducing the number of suicides. We need to spread awareness concerning the signs of suicide. Sumithrayo aims to prevent suicide in every possible way.

Media’s role

Sumithrayo’s request for media is clear: be a little sensitive when reporting the suicide case rather than dramatizing to an extreme extent and sensationalizing it. The victim may be a mother, father, sister, brother, relative or simply a friend. There is a stigma attached to suicide. Publishing lurid photos may not be in the best interests of those who are grieving because it is a traumatic event. Being a little selective is required when it comes to publishing details.

“A lot of cases of suicide are linked to alcohol and drug addiction. So we decided to set up a special centre at Sumithrayo related to alcohol and drug addiction. We address drug addiction issues. Our services are freely available to the public. Our volunteers are called ‘befrienders’ providing confidential emotional support. The person who comes for help is encouraged to explore his or her feelings,” explained Jomo.

In most cases, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Suicide could be a temporary state of mind. This mindset could be a very short term. Offering loving-kindness and emotional support to someone can make a huge difference. The distress and unhappiness can be removed and in doing so reduce the risk of committing suicide.

“Empathizing with the person in distress is often the first step we take. Then we need to identify the feelings behind the problem that may drive a person to commit suicide – these feelings could be guilt and rejection,” said Jomo.

We must identify fear as a contributing factor because it is the most difficult emotion to deal with and get rid of.

“Everyone experiences these feelings at some point in life. The question is why do some people choose to commit suicide and consider it as an option? Suicide is not due to one particular reason and is due to many reasons. Depression is one big reason due to poor coping skills, poor decision-making skills and little support from others. Our theme at Sumithrayo is prevention is better than cure. We want to tell people not to wait for the last moment. Seek help as soon as possible,” added Jomo.

Sri Lanka can be held as an example of working towards suicide prevention. In 1995, it is reported, the country had the highest suicide rate in the world. However, due to timely interventions by stakeholders such as Sumithrayo, the country has made major advances in reducing its suicide rate from the peak in the mid-1990s of 45 per 100,000 people to incidence of 16 per 100,000 in 2018. They also raised awareness in educating the public about pesticides as a common method of suicide.

There must be a culture that discourages suicide. Jomo pointed out that it is heartening that a Presidential Task Force was set up. Since 1996 when the special Presidential Task Force was set up going along with the National Policy on Suicide Prevention, it recognized that mental illness, alcohol and drug use, poor coping skills, are all contributory factors that lead people towards suicide in Sri Lanka.

Thankfully, Jomo went on to mention, suicide was decriminalized in 1997 but unfortunately, no sufficient data is available on attempted suicide. What we do know is that for every suicide there are around 20 attempted suicides.

The closet culture in Sri Lanka tends to look at suicide as a crime. Religious groups look at it as a sin. This means that people are less likely to open up with their loved ones and even more unlikely to seek medical help. Religion may argue that life belongs to God and that you are going to hell if you commit suicide. The ground reality is that people commit suicide because they have lost all hope. That is the reality. They are not in their correct mind. They are in pain.

“I request the media to lobby the Health Ministry to share important data concerning attempted suicides. Because this information is essential to get an understanding of the bigger picture. This information will equip us to tackle this problem of suicide,” said Jomo.

Unconditional love and support

Sumithrayo volunteer Surangi pointed out that the media has a huge role to play in suicide prevention. Surangi pointed out that the most vicious part of the situation that victims face is that there is a stigma attached to the very act of obtaining help from people like Sumithrayo. People go to the extent of vilifying the victim calling the victim ‘mad’. This practice needs to stop. People need to be able to ask for help.

“Society gets to know about suicide through the media. That is why we always say that responsible reporting is very important. The media takes the message to the public. The public must know that there is a free service available. We offer unconditional love and support. The message that must be given is that suicide is not the solution. There is help and if you seek help we can help you find ways to cope with what you are going through,” said Surangi.

The power of listening can be seen in the relief that the one who is suffering experiences. That intense loneliness and the feeling of oppression can disappear.

“Sumithrayo is where they will find empathy instead of sympathy, empowerment instead of advice, and a nonjudgemental friend who will listen with the assurance of complete confidentiality. People who have been through such a crisis will confirm that it was a huge relief to unburden their feelings and discovering options other than taking their lives,” said Surangi.

The Colombo Centre with the strength of almost 100 volunteers receives over 8,000 callers per year who seek to befriend via face to face, telephone, by letter and email.


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