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    Connect the disconnected

    October 19, 2019

    Suicide is a global health issue. It is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages each year. Due to the alarming rates of suicides across the globe, the World Health Organisation (WHO) marks October 10 as World Mental Health Day.

    This year’s theme is ‘Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention’. According to the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) suicide is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds. Hence, WHO launched an awareness campaign called “40 seconds of action” to raise awareness of the large scale of suicide around the world and the role that each individual can play to help prevent it.

    In Sri Lanka over 3,000 lives are lost due to suicide every year. 1995 recorded the highest suicidal rate in the country with over 8,000 people committing suicide. Though the figures have declined, the alarming fact is that the attempts to commit suicide have been soaring each year. This is a serious and complicated issue that needs to be dealt with.

    “Three features need to be present to label the process as suicide. The process ends with the death of a person, it needs to be initiated and conducted by the person and it should be a process where the person knows about the outcome and is conducting it expecting the outcome,” Consultant Psychiatrist and Senior Lecturer to the University Hospital, General Sir John Kothalawela Defense University, Dr Neil Fernando explained.

    The process passes through three phases: intention, physical act and outcome. In the outcome, some die.

    This result is labelled as “suicide”. We name the actions taken by those who survive the act as “suicidal attempt”.

    Suicide survivors

    “Out of a hundred people who have suicidal ideas, 25 attempt suicide and one person’s life ends with committing suicide. Research done on suicide survivors has revealed a common factor: the victims also have a desire to live,” Dr Fernando revealed adding that that is the aspect that people need to work on to help prevent the figures ascending.

    According to Sri Lanka Sumithrayo Chairperson Kumudini de Silva, the society does not give prominence to mental health.

    “There is a stigma towards the topic and many people ignore the fact that mental illnesses too are very much a part of our body and self. They are afraid to open up because they believe that they will be shunned by the public. They would be dubbed as “mad”, “weird” or “weak” by those around them. Even educated people tend to avoid this matter. Studies have revealed that mental health will become a major issue in 2020,” she expressed.

    Depression is the most common mental illness prevailing in society at present. It causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and home. Fortunately, it is also treatable.

    “We all feel depressed at times. The loss of a loved one, a tedious working environment, losing a job or issues related to finances causes depressive thoughts. It helps to talk to the person, lend an ear to his or her lamentations or divert his or her attention. A person might feel grief-stricken, worthless, lethargic, and sleepy in the long run. We need to identify the symptoms and help that distressed person to seek medical help,” de Silva said.

    The volunteers at Sumithrayo are trained to welcome people who are suffering from mental burdens by giving them ample time to talk about their worries with them.

    “We work on making them feel at ease with us and getting them to open up to us. The volunteers are tolerant and watchful. They make them feel safe so that they can unleash their thoughts and emotions. If their condition seems serious, they prompt them gently to seek medical assistance,” she explained.

    Her advice is not to treat this mental condition as a weakness. It takes a long time for the medication to work and for results to be seen. A lot of people who have visited a psychiatrist for a couple of sessions give up or move to another therapist because they think that the medication does not work for them.

    “There is a myth that such people cannot be productive. Proper care, monitoring in taking medication and attending clinics regularly is essential for such a person to recover from this state. If the necessary treatment is given and the victim follows the medical instructions, then he or she can lead a normal life,” she assured.

    Suicide has proven not only to have tragic effects on the victims themselves but also the people close to them.

    Suicide victims

    “Family members, close friends, colleagues and workmates of the victims too will be affected as they are struck by powerful emotions like shock and grief. This is called the “ripple effect”,” Dr Fernando pointed out.

    He notes that there are three ways in which individuals can help those who are suffering from mental anguish. You need to connect with people who are suffering mentally, who have already attempted and survived suicide as well as family, relatives and close friends of suicide victims.

    “Communicate with them by listening to them, armed with empathy and without judgement. Giving an ear to their woeful stories has proven to be therapeutic. Allow them to tell their stories in their own way and at their own pace. Be caring and do not isolate these people who are suffering from great suicidal risk. If the person is suffering from a mental illness, you will be able to recognize it and help the person get the necessary treatment. A person might be suffering from mental illnesses like depressive disorder, alcohol-related illnesses, schizophrenia, or personality disorders. Physical illnesses too put a person at high risk in committing suicide. Physical illnesses include long-standing pain which relives with pain killers, any illness which affects the independence of a person and life long illness which means that there is no hope of recovery. Social isolation, lack of social support and unemployment as well as underemployment issues too drive suicidal thoughts into a person’s mind,” Dr Fernando noted adding that any person can play a role to help prevent a person from taking the plunge.

    Sumithrayo has collaborated with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to launch a helpline: 1926 which is open 24 hours a day throughout the year





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