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Before Covid, around the world every 40 seconds someone lost their life to suicide and nearly 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, according to statistics from the WHO.
In Thailand, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds, after road fatalities.
Now, an apparent rise in Thailand’s suicide rate, related to the country’s current business conditions, restrictions and ongoing world pandemic, is concerning health officials.
The Mental Health Department released a report in September indicating 2,551 people in Thailand had killed themselves from January to the end of July, 2020. That is up a palpable 22% compared to the same first 6 months of last year.
Health officials are citing “personal problems, economic pressures, depression and alcohol abuse” for the rise in cases that appear to be linked to Thailand’s current economic woes.
South East Asian suicide rates are generally around 20 to 30 % higher than the global average, and Thailand’s general rate was the highest suicide rate in the South East Asian region before the pandemic.
The Thai Mental Health Department Director General Kiartipoom Wongrachit believes that both isolation and pressures generated by social media have contributed to the rise.
But he also believes that social media is becoming a valuable tool to help identify self-harm behaviour and provide intervention.
“Signs of suicide have been increasing on social media. While some social media platforms have technology that can detect video clips recording self harm or suicides… there are many other signs to look out for that the technology can’t detect.”
He linked the increase in the suicide cases this year to the outbreak of the deadly virus and described the trend as “worrisome”.
A March study by Chiang Mai University also identified 38 suicide attempts that were likely linked to stress associated with the lockdown at the time. 28 of them ended up in deaths.
The research was conducted in the middle of the local lockdowns and restrictions implemented by the Thai government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
In June, Oxford University also released a study on the impact of the pandemic on suicide rates in the International Journal of Medicine.
The study found stress from Covid-19 had played a part in the suicide rates and that the problem “could linger after the outbreak ends”.
If you or anyone you know is in emotional distress, please contact the Samaritans of Thailand 24-hour hotline: 02 713 6791 (English), 02 713 6793 (Thai) or the Thai Mental Health Hotline at 1323 (Thai).
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