Sumithrayo at hand to prevent despair | Sunday Observer

Sumithrayo at hand to prevent despair

Sri Lanka can be held up as an example of working towards suicide prevention. In 1995, it was reported the country has the highest rates 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 16/100,000 in 2018.

While the number of people dying by suicide has dramatically reduced in Sri Lanka, there are still large numbers making suicide attempts, indicating there is a level of distress being experienced by the population while there are also many who are profoundly impacted by suicidal behaviour. These issues need to be addressed urgently.

Every life lost represents someone’s partner, child, parent, friend or colleague. For us to understand the gravity of the problem it is important that a mechanism is quickly put in place to collect information and statistics on attempted suicides.

Attempting Suicide is never the result of a single factor or event and is likely to have several inter related and complex causes. The single factor or event (such as a scolding) is the trigger that causes unbearable pain coupled with the inability to cope any further and feelings of very low self-esteem –resulting in an attempt to end it all.

Some of the problems that increase the risk of suicide are: rejection in a relationship, unbearable grief, heavy use/dependency on alcohol or other drugs, a disabling or terminal illness, history of earlier attempts or self-harming, depression, mental illness, poor coping skills, the biology of the brain, genetics, psychological traits and social forces can all contribute to such feelings.

Another less publicized reason is, dealing with human sexuality (associated with the facts of life) in an unsupportive family, community or hostile school environment can also bring about such feelings. As would the feelings of worthlessness and guilt soon after (or long after) a person has been sexually abused.

The founder of ‘The Samaritans’ Chad Varah was haunted by the following experience: Standing in at the funeral of a 14-year-old girl, he asked the undertaker why the girl was being buried in unconsecrated ground, and was told she had killed herself because she had mistaken menstruation for some sort of sexually transmitted disease.

Since 1996 when the special Presidential Task Force set up 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.

Services are therefore targeted towards helping people who fall into these categories. The fact that suicide is invariably the outcome of a combination of factors – environmental, psychological, sociological and biological is now accepted.

Sumithrayo has been in the forefront of suicide prevention: befriending and empowering the lonely, depressed, despairing and suicidal with emotional support. It is a free and confidential service. Sumithrayo also seeks to alleviate human misery, loneliness, despair and depression by listening to and befriending those who feel that they have no one else to turn to who would understand and accept them.

The service is delivered by a group of volunteers. Volunteers are carefully selected and trained to befriend people who are emotionally distressed. Training gives them the skill of befriending. Volunteers are not Counsellors but Befrienders. Prospective volunteers do not need any special qualifications or experience to become a Sumithraya – just a willingness to listen in a caring, compassionate, nonjudgmental way.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn life around,” quoted the Chairperson of Sumithrayo.

Befriending is the art of positive listening to troubled feelings and helping distressed persons to explore healthy options which can ultimately lead to empowerment and a positive approach to life’s issues. People of all ages seek befriending from Sumithrayo for concerns that include marital, family, domestic violence, sexual abuse and harassment, relationship issues, mental health, grief, loneliness and low self-esteem.

If you like to show your support for suicide prevention please join the Sumithrayas on September 10, 2019, at the Mahaweli Centre from 3 pm - 6 pm. Light a candle with them to remember a lost loved one and for the survivors of suicide. Sumithrayo will commemorate ‘World Suicide Prevention Day 2019’ here with a series of activities that include an interesting panel discussion.