Following a decade of decline, Sri Lanka’s suicide rate – once amongst the highest in the world – is reported to be on the rise once more. It’s too early to tell whether this is a temporary blip or the beginnings of something more serious. But what is known is that the fall in the suicide rate was the result of sales restrictions placed on the most toxic pesticides, and not the result of falling levels of suicide attempts per se. In fact, the evidence suggests that the number of suicide attempts has actually increased in the same period, with suicidal behaviour remaining a leading cause of serious injury and death in youth and older persons in Sri Lanka.
On 21-22 March 2013, a group of suicide research and intervention experts from around Sri Lanka and across the globe will be meeting at the University of Colombo to discuss the latest developments in Sri Lanka’s long-running suicide epidemic. The symposium is being organised by Dr Tom Widger (School of Global Studies, University of Sussex), and Ms Tharindi Udalagama (Department of Sociology, University of Colombo). The symposium has been made possible through the Department of Sociology, University of Colombo and sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the World Health Organisation.
The main aims of the symposium are to share the results of new research, discuss effective intervention strategies, and debate the ‘cultural challenge’ of suicide prevention in Sri Lanka. ‘More and more, suicide experts are recognising that the causes of suicide are culturally rooted, and so prevention methods designed in and for western contexts are likely to be only partially effective in different cultural contexts,’ says Dr Widger. Global suicidology organisations like the International Association of Suicide Prevention (IASP) are now exploring the link between suicide and culture, placing the issue on national-level research agenda.
The symposium will begin with presentations on recent trends in Sri Lanka’s suicide rate. Then there will be presentations reporting the results of qualitative studies of suicide from across Sri Lanka, including an analysis of suicide and war in the conflict-affected areas. The third session will include a range of papers discussing the success of recent intervention strategies, including the restriction of pesticides and life-skills training. The final session will take the form of a roundtable debate on the theme of the symposium: ‘can we meet the cultural challenge of suicide prevention in Sri Lanka?’
It is hoped that the symposium will produce informative and lively discussions. As well as publishing papers presented, the organisers will use the results of the symposium to develop suicide prevention materials for use in Sri Lanka.
Further information about the symposium can be obtained by emailing Dr Widger and Ms Udalagama at firstname.lastname@example.org.