CASP – An intervention by community volunteers to reduce suicidal behaviour among refugees

Author(s): Lakshmi VIJAYAKUMAR ; Rani MOHANRAJ ; Shuba KUMAR ; Visalakshi JEYASEELAN ; Savitha SRIRAM ; Madhumathi SHANMUGAM


Refugees are at risk of psychiatric morbidity because of forced migration, traumatic events and resettlement in unfamiliar environments. Many live in low- and middle-income countries (LAMIC) under stressful conditions contributing to increased suicide risk.

This study assessed the feasibility of regular contact and use of safety planning cards (CASP) by community volunteers (CVs) in reducing suicidal behaviour among Sri Lankan refugees residing in camps in Tamil Nadu, South India.

A household survey was carried out on consenting adults in two refugee camps – one intervention and one control – randomly selected using lottery method. The primary outcome was reduction in suicidal behaviour. Experience of trauma during war and migration, depression, post-traumatic stress and alcohol use were documented. Individuals scoring >16 on Centre for Epidemiological Studies Depression (CESD) or >30 on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or with active/passive suicidal ideation or a history of previous suicidal attempts were considered as high risk. CVs were trained to deliver CASP intervention to high-risk individuals. Change from baseline to follow-up was computed for intervention and control groups, and the difference between changes in suicide rates was compared using proportion test.

In total, 639 refugees from intervention and 664 from control camps participated. Of the 288 high-risk refugees in intervention camp, 139 completed the intervention. In the control camp, 187 were categorised as high risk. Prevalence of suicide attempts was 6.1%. Following intervention, differences between sites in changes in combined suicide (attempted suicides and suicides) rates per 100,000 per year were 519 (95% confidence interval (CI): 136–902; p < .01).

CASP, an intervention involving contact by CVs and use of safety planning cards, is feasible to implement and can reduce suicidal behaviour among refugees. Its replication in more settings will enhance validity.

Tags: India, Sri Lanka, Refugees, Suicidality, PTSD, Depression, Substance abuse, Alcohol, War trauma, Traumatic life events, Refugee camps, Intervention

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