Bristol University lecturer given prestigious international award for suicide prevention

A Wotton-based university lecturer and researcher has received an international award for her work in suicide prevention in Sri Lanka.

Dr. Dee Knipe is a lecturer at Bristol University, and at the time of writing is on maternity leave with her first child.

In September 2019 she was given the De Leo Fund Award on behalf of the International Association of Suicide Prevention, in recognition of her “outstanding research into suicide prevention in low-and middle-income countries.” 

Dee said: “Unlike in higher-income societies such as the UK, the people who are committing these acts don’t as commonly display signs of suffering from a mental health disorder. 

“We’re finding that people who commit suicide in these societies are on the receiving end of domestic violence and alcohol abuse. 

“Most of the work we do is in preventing people from accessing ways of killing themselves, which doesn’t really address the problem. 

Originally an undergraduate in Pathology and Microbiology at Bristol University in the 00s, Dee returned to the university to start her research in 2012, and grew up in Hong Kong after moving from Sri Lanka when she was ten.

She returned to Sri Lanka in 2011 for a research project, and was shocked by the scale and complexity of the issues faced by the people there.

“The project involved giving lockable strongboxes to farming communities, and finding out whether this would cause a drop in pesticide-related deaths.

“The national suicide rate has since fallen; at one time Sri Lanka had the highest rate in the world, but fortunately it’s dropped a lot since.” 

Dee was very modest about receiving the De Leo Fund award, saying she felt humbled by it, and refused to take too much credit alone.

“This work is the result of a big, big team, both at Bristol and also in Sri Lanka – I have them to thank and I’m hugely glad to be part of such an inspiring effort.”

On the topic of how life in Wotton compares to life in Sri Lanka, Dee says that the two are very different. 

“Over there it’s a challenge to get around, getting between places can be very tough because there’s a lot of dense jungle. 

“Both have lovely communities, but the two are just so different that trying to compare them would be quite a challenge in itself. 

“Wotton was very welcoming when we moved here we were looking for houses in a place that wasn’t too far from Bristol with a busy, friendly atmosphere, which Wotton definitely is.” 

Her work in pesticide regulation is currently being used by the World Health Organisation and policymakers in these countries.

In Sri Lanka, Dee works with the South Asian Clinical Toxicology Research Collaboration at Peradeniya University.