Suicide in Sri Lanka

After decades of having one of the highest suicide rates in the world, Sri Lanka now has a declining trend, but health professionals are concerned about the growing numbers who end their lives with poison.

Police records show a plunge in the number of suicides over the past few years, from a peak of 8,449 in 1995 to 4,504 in 2006 and 4,225 in 2007.

Sri Lanka in 2007 had a rate of about 21 suicides per 100,000 people. Although the rate has dropped since 1995, when it was a peak figure of 46.6 suicides per 100,000 people, the figure still remains high, as anything over 15 suicides per 100,000 is considered excessive.

Police figures also reveal that of the deaths recorded as suicides in 2006, more than half were due to poison, with some 2,268 men and 519 women consuming toxic substances.

State hospitals have seen a 300 percent increase in the number of patients being admitted with symptoms of poisoning in the last 20 years.

The seeds of the yellow oleander tree, the yam of the gloriosa superba plant, agricultural chemicals and over-the-counter drugs were some of the poisons ingested by the 93,773 people treated in government hospitals in 2006, according to the National Poisons Information Centre (NPIC).

The actual figure is much higher, since information about hospital admissions in the North and East and private hospital admissions have not been taken into account.

It is disturbing that an increasing number of people, most between 19 and 30, are going to hospital to be treated for intentional or inadvertent poisoning. Countless cases also go unreported, according to health experts.

Sri Lanka's recent decreasing suicide trend could be the result of national strategies instigated in the mid-1990s, which include:
De-criminalising of suicide, which eliminated the stigma attached to the psychological condition
Restricting access to poisonous chemicals
Assigning more medical officers with mental health training to provincial hospitals to provide psychiatric support.