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Open Access Research article

Characteristics of non-fatal self-poisoning in Sri Lanka: a systematic review

Thilini Rajapakse1*, Kathleen Margaret Griffiths2 and Helen Christensen3

Author Affiliations

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

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

3 Black Dog Institute, University of New South Wales, Hospital Road, Randwich, NSW 2031, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:331  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-331

Published: 10 April 2013



The rate of non-fatal self-poisoning in Sri Lanka has increased in recent years, with associated morbidity and economic cost to the country. This review examines the published literature for the characteristics and factors associated with non-fatal self-poisoning in Sri Lanka.


Electronic searches were conducted in Psychinfo, Proquest, Medline and Cochrane databases from inception to October 2011.


26 publications (representing 23 studies) were eligible to be included in the review. A majority of studies reported non-fatal self-poisoning to be more common among males, with a peak age range of 10–30 years. Pesticide ingestion was the most commonly used method of non-fatal self-poisoning. However three studies conducted within the last ten years, in urban areas of the country, reported non-fatal self-poisoning by medicinal overdose to be more common, and also reported non-fatal self-poisoning to be more common among females. Interpersonal conflict was the most commonly reported short-term stressor associated with self-poisoning. Alcohol misuse was reported among males who self-poisoned, and data regarding other psychiatric morbidity was limited.


The findings indicate that pesticide ingestion is the commonest method of non-fatal self-poisoning in Sri Lanka, and it is more common among young males, similar to other Asian countries. However there appears to be an emerging pattern of increasing medicinal overdoses, paralleled by a gender shift towards increased female non-fatal self-poisoning in urban areas.

Many non-fatal self-poisoning attempts appear to occur in the context of acute interpersonal stress, with short premeditation, and associated with alcohol misuse in males. Similar to other Asian countries, strategies to reduce non-fatal self-poisoning in Sri Lanka require integrated intervention programs with several key aspects, including culturally appropriate interventions to develop interpersonal skills in young people, community based programs to reduce alcohol misuse, and screening for and specific management of those at high risk of repetition following an attempt of self-poisoning.