Lending a helping hand since 1974 – Sumithrayo

By Chenelle Fernando

Sumithrayo is a household name to almost all Sri Lankans, although some are unaware of the actual work carried out by it. Located at 60B Horton Pl, Colombo 7, Sumithrayo is always present to help uncover the ability to explore difficult feelings. It acts as a helping hand for those in need to feel accepted, thereby alleviating despair and limiting suicidal thoughts.

About Sumithrayo

In Sri Lanka, an individual confiding in the Department of Probation and Child Care Services or the Department of Social Services is a rare occurrence. Most of the time, there is someone else they would want to speak to first; for instance, if it is a child, it will most probably be his/her parents, teachers, or friends. This is where Sumithrayo falls within the equation as they work towards filling this gap by being there for their callers.

The institution was founded in 1974 by Joan De Mel, following an increase in the rate of suicides at the time. As we were indicated, Joan was a part of the Samaritans based in London. Interestingly, we learnt that Sumithrayo stands parallel to this charity organisation, which also happens to work towards the provision of emotional support often through a telephone line to those in distress and at risk of suicide in the UK as well as Ireland. “We go under a Sri Lankan name. The word ‘Samaritan’ doesn’t go with the culture here. However, it’s essentially the same idea,” indicated a volunteer we spoke to from the organisation. As far as providing support is concerned, Sumithrayo will be open throughout the week, despite all public holidays, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The institution functions under two main sections. Suicide prevention and all other similar concerns are taken care of by one section whilst the Mel Madura undertakes addiction prevention. Addiction isn’t necessarily confined to drugs or alcohol, but also extends to social media, phonography, games, etc. “We get callers who say they are constantly on WhatsApp and Facebook, and even parents reach out to us and say their children are constantly on their phones. Due to this, we get a lot of teens who seek support,” indicated a volunteer.

What can one expect to find here?

Volunteers interact through a number of methods. For one, callers walking through the doors will be able to confide in a volunteer within one of the four rooms situated within its respective section. People could also call the premises directly during times of despair.

Apart from this, the institution organises outreach programmes where they visit companies, institutions, and even schools. Here, volunteers requested to visit various institutions first obtain a list of the topics the company would want to have discussed. Outreach falls within numerous segments such as raising awareness, imparting knowledge on handling various situations regarding the topic, and helping improve skills. A ripple effect is created due to the assistance provided for individuals to work on their own in case of an emergency – in and out of their organisations and institutions as well as in community-based situations.

Raising awareness remains to be a pivotal function of the organisation. The importance of having a positive outlook and the prevention of negative decisions is the focal point. Not everyone is instilled with the understanding to deal with issues, but it’s important to reach out for help instead of sweeping issues under the carpet.

Discuss, don’t sweep

Many opt to avoid discussion, and this has obtained a common place in a majority of Asian countries including Sri Lanka. Avoidance is sought mainly to curb presumptuous societal judgment – what people tend to view as a weakness on their part when it might result in long-term implications.

Secondly, reaching out for help is by no means indicative of a person being mentally unsound, and that assumption in itself is inexplicable. Myths as such often crafted by society prevent people from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Commenting further on this aspect, a volunteer indicated: “There have been instances where people have been told that the issues they have aren’t the ones they should resort by counselling, and when we ultimately ask them what they think about it, they say that if they listened to those people, they would have ended up in some other place and that they are so glad they came or that they are feeling better.”

How can YOU be of assistance?

In the event those experiencing despair are near and dear to you, you could begin by talking to them and listening to them. Simply put, talking performs miracles; when a person begins to realise they are able to confide in you, they would open up to you, and 99.99% of the time, when an individual is spoken to about an issue, they start focusing on the solution at a glance instead of listening. Patience, thereby, is key as the process of discussion and brainstorming for solutions can ideally take place right after. “If they have already planned it and it is serious, you must work towards removing that method from him/her. If you can’t do so, maybe you could remove them from the method. Be with them so that they have no access to that method.”

World Suicide Prevention day is nearing and Sumithrayo embarks upon an annual programme which takes place on this day. This time around, the programme is planned and set to take place on 10 September at the Mahaweli Centre located at Kollupitiya-Sri Jayewardenepura Rd, Colombo 7 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The first session includes a discussion by the keynote speaker while the second is a discourse between panellists. The panellists come from varied backgrounds. Psychiatrists, social workers, and even experts in the areas of cybercrimes and bullying will be present to speak on incumbent matters related to the topic.

Photos: Saman Abesiriwardana