WARNING signs for Sri Lanka

Arun Perera

No, this article is not about the political or economic situation in our country. There are many indicators that contribute toward forecasting the success or demise of a nation. They can act as warning signs, that if heeded can make the difference between life and death. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound grim. On the contrary I write this to motivate us to get off our backsides and do something as citizens to solve some real issues that will result in injecting hope for the future.

There are some very troubling statistics relating to civil society in Sri Lanka that require immediate attention;

  • Sri Lanka Police and the World Health Organization recently published the suicide rate in Sri Lanka for 2017. The result is that, Sri Lanka is yet again the No.1 country for suicides in the world. Infact suicides have further increased since 2016. (Source: Sri Lanka Police & WHO statistics 2017)
  • 80% of all suicides in Sri Lanka are Men (Source: Sri Lanka Police statistics 2017)
  • 20% of all children in Sri Lanka grow-up without a father. (Source: Department of Census and Statistics & United Nations data bank)
  • Sri Lanka is ranked No.18 in the world (out of a survey done with 254 countries) in terms of broken homes (children growing-up with just one parent). (Source: Department of Census and Statistics & United Nations data bank)
  • 35% of all mentally ill persons in Sri Lanka are children between the ages of 5 and 19. (Source: Department of Census and Statistics)

For years we have been toiling with the issue of high suicide rates. I have seen articles claiming that the United Nations statistics are wrong. Well, we don’t need to argue on that anymore as the Sri Lanka police has confirmed a steady increase since 2015. How is it that in 6 years we as a society have pitifully failed in bringing down these numbers? Could it be that our approach to the problem is all wrong?

At the end of the day, what we sow, our children will reap. Sowing good seed in fertile ground will reap a good harvest for future generations. Likewise, good seed in unfertile soil will reap a bad harvest. This is not only true in agriculture, but also true in society. The soil represents our value system. Lightly translated – what is it that we value as a nation. I am not saying that we need to change our value system. I am saying that our values have changed and it’s time we fixed it!

It has been a norm for many years that a clear majority of suicides are men (80% in 2017). This should have given us a hint on how to formulate an action plan to bring these figures down. Its obvious that men in this country need help in coping with the challenges of life. Sadly, most turn to alcohol. You don’t need stats to prove this. Just glance at the local liquor shop on the night before a poya day. We put so much of emphasis on cutting down on narcotics not realizing that alcohol is a bigger killer in this country than drugs.

It’s not just alcohol. There are other addictions that are of high value. Communication breakdown in families due to evening television marathons and mobile phone entertainment contribute a great deal to bottling up problems.

Broken homes and breakdown of the family unit has a direct impact on the future generation. I can’t prove that this is a result of men abandoning their roles as care-givers, but certainly an increase in fatherless children is not helping the cause. The result of a broken home is seen in the instability of the emotional health of children between years 5 and 19.

These issues don’t need to be solved by the government. They can be solved by you and me. Look around you today and see who needs help, who needs someone to talk to, stop living for yourself and start living for others. Let’s change our values to that which has value by focusing on the basic building block of any thriving society – the family.