Open Access Research article

A comparison of non-fatal self-poisoning among males and females, in Sri Lanka

Thilini Rajapakse12*, Kathleen Margaret Griffiths2, Helen Christensen3 and Sue Cotton4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka

2 National Institute for Mental Health Research, The Australian National University, Building 63, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia

3 Black Dog Institute, University of New South Wales, Hospital Road, Randwich 2013, NSW, Australia

4 Centre for Youth Mental Health, University of Melbourne, 35, Poplar Road, Parkville 3052, VIC, Australia

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BMC Psychiatry 2014, 14:221  doi:10.1186/s12888-014-0221-z

Published: 8 August 2014



In the recent past Sri Lanka has had a high rate of attempted suicide by pesticide ingestion, among both males and females. Recent evidence suggests that these trends in self-poisoning may be changing, with increasing medicinal overdoses and changing gender ratios. In the past, attempted suicide in Sri Lanka has been described as impulsive acts, but research regarding aspects such as suicidal intent is limited, and there has been no comparison between genders. The objective of this study was to describe gender differences in non-fatal self-poisoning in Sri Lanka with respect to substances ingested, triggers, stressors, suicidal intent and psychiatric morbidity.


Persons admitted to Teaching Hospital Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, for medical management of non-fatal self-poisoning over a consecutive 14-month period were eligible for the study. Participants were interviewed within one week of admission, with regard to demographic details, poison type ingested, triggers, psychiatric morbidity and suicidal intent. 949 participants were included in the study, of whom 44.2% were males, with a median age of 22 years.


Males were significantly more likely to ingest agrochemicals, whereas females were more likely to overdose on pharmaceutical drugs. Interpersonal conflict was a common trigger associated with non-fatal self-poisoning for both males and females. Alcohol use disorders and high suicidal intent were significantly more likely in males. There was no difference in rates of depression between the genders. Multiple regression for both genders separately showed that the presence of depression and higher levels of hopelessness was the strongest predictor of suicidal intent, for both genders.


Patterns of non-fatal self-poisoning in Sri Lanka appear to be changing to resemble Western patterns, with females having a greater rate of self-poisoning and more medicinal overdoses than males. Alcohol use disorder is a gender specific risk factor associated with non-fatal self-poisoning among males, indicating a need for specific intervention. However there are also many common risk factors that are common to both genders, particularly associations with interpersonal conflict as an acute trigger, and psychiatric morbidity such as depression and hopelessness being related to increased suicidal intent.