- Tomorrow is World Suicide Prevention Day
By Kusumanjalee Thilakarathna
Suicide is a serious problem in Sri Lankan society that can have long-lasting effects on individuals, families, and the community, and this must be addressed, especially on World Suicide Prevention Day, which is tomorrow. We have established the fact that there is a strong relationship between mental health and suicide. Many suicides and suicidal attempts happen impulsively, in moments when a person loses the ability to handle life stressors. But the good news is that it is also a fact that suicide is preventable when help is available.
Tharanga, now in his mid-20s, battled depression while struggling with thoughts about ending his life for a very long time. There was a point in his life when he attempted to end his pain. With professional guidance and support, he was able to combat his suicidal ideations, and choose a meaningful approach to life. This is Tharanga’s story of courage, and how accepting help changed his life. This story is published with his full consent and his name has been changed to protect his identity and ensure anonymity.
The darkest place
Tharanga was just a teenage schoolboy when unwanted thoughts started nagging him. He didn’t know he was combating depression and surrendered to his thoughts thinking that it was just the way he was.
“I battled with these thoughts for a very long time, and those thoughts wore me down. I found negativity in every positive thing, magnifying little details. If you were to gift me a garden of flowers, I would fail to admire the beauty of it. Thoughts about flowers withering soon would have haunted me, and questions about the existence of these beautiful flowers would hog my mind. While I know that the beauty of the flowers is to be admired while they are still alive and fresh, my thoughts keep me from enjoying that.
“The inability to feel happy, even about the minor things in life, was sucking all the energy out of me. I could not understand why it was happening to me and I could not snap out of it too. I would just surrender. Sometimes, I wouldn’t feel sad – I wouldn’t have any thoughts and be numb to everything.”
These thoughts started growing on him, he said, to the point they would ultimately be about questioning his own existence – if it was worth continuing his life, or if his existence would mean anything to anyone.
“At the end of the day, I was left with ‘why’ questions. Why am I doing this? Why? Why can’t I feel happy? Why can’t I feel anything at all? These thoughts were scaring me and it dragged me further down.”
Barriers to help-seeking
The stigma surrounding suicide means many people thinking of or have attempted suicide are not seeking help, and are therefore not getting the help they need. It was the same for Tharanga at first.
“I was scared of being judged. I didn’t want people to assume things about me. People make judgements based on their life experiences. I didn’t think they would understand me, because they didn’t know what I had gone through. I believed that my thoughts were too silly or too bizarre to be shared with anyone else. I didn’t have anyone within my family that I could go to and explain what was going on. I tried talking to some friends. But it was exhausting because I didn’t get a good response or a good outcome. I was alone and solitude was making things worse for me.”
Seeking a permanent solution
Depression isn’t the same for everyone. Although professionals give the symptoms common names for identification purposes, what and how a victim feels can be unique.
“There was a point in my life that I had tried everything – I had even tried ending my life. But I could not. I know and have seen many people, even children my age at that time, trying out temporary things like cutting or hurting themselves to get out of pain. But I wanted a permanent solution.”
The prevention of suicide has not been adequately addressed due to a lack of awareness of suicide, and the taboo in our society to openly discuss it.
“I was convinced that no one would be able to understand me. I was afraid of being judged. Reaching out to someone older was especially difficult for me, because I knew they would tell me to just get over it. Getting treatment for mental health issues is not at all a part of the lifestyles of my older generations. I wanted the pain to end, and for it to never come back.
“At the moment I was attempting to end things, I had a lot of thoughts fighting inside my mind. I started questioning everything. On one hand, I was telling myself that no one could help me. On the other hand, I realised that I hadn’t helped anyone understand me either.”
This thought encouraged him to reach out to a person whom he was beginning to trust. Fortunately, this friend he reached out to had an understanding of mental health. He was immediately directed towards professional help.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Receiving professional help turned out to be an unexpected but highly favourable experience for Tharanga.
“The process of therapy wasn’t at all like how I imagined. I feared it. But it wasn’t a scary process. The counsellor asked me casual questions at the beginning. Then, I was talking about the issues that were stuck inside of my head without even realising that I was talking.
“At first, I didn’t feel anything at all. I wasn’t either happy or sad. But I was looking at myself from a whole new perspective. I was releasing all the stiffness in me that I had been stocking up for years and years. At some points in therapy, I recollected many things that happened in the past and I felt pitiful. But the counsellor helped me move back to feeling compassionate about myself. This process helped me realise that the past is past, and there is nothing we can do to change it. But I can always change my future by changing the present me.”
Tharanga says that the process of therapy wasn’t an easy experience. “Yet, it wasn’t exhausting me either. I didn’t accomplish change overnight. It happened little by little, one step at a time. It was a fixed constant process and helped me to find purpose and confidence.
“This doesn’t mean that I feel happy all the time now. Life is never like that – there are ups and downs. When there is acceptance, it becomes easy. Anyway for me, what matters the most now is that I am improving myself. When there is a challenge I make sure I face it. Today I am better than the person I was yesterday.”
When asked whether professional support helped him, he said: “It definitely helped me. If not for that help, I don’t think I would be able to talk so openly about what I went through without self-pity.”
Tharanga today is a thriving educator who does wonders in the music field.
If you or someone you know is dealing with a similar situation and may require help, the following institutions would assist you:
The National Institute of Mental Health: 1926
Sri Lanka Sumithrayo: 0112 682 535
Courage Compassion Commitment (CCC) Foundation: 1333