Why communication and caring are essential in preventing suicide, which is on the increase in Thailand and the rest of the world
The figures are shocking. Somewhere in the world, one person will die by his or her own hand every 40 seconds. More than 800,000 people commit suicide each year and up to 25 times that many make a suicide attempt.
And, perhaps more worryingly, global suicide rates have increased by more than 60 per cent since the 1970s and are continuing to rise, according to the World Health Organisation.
The Public Health Ministry’s National Centre for Suicide says that, in Thailand, more than 5,000 people commit suicide each year, putting us in an unenviable third place behind South Korea and Japan.
WHO has also found that committing suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the world, and is ranked in the top three causes of death among people aged 15 to 35. Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women in many countries.
And suicide, which is preventable, has become such a problem that tomorrow the world is again marking World Suicide Prevention Day. An initiative of the International Association for Suicide Prevention and WHO, this year’s theme is “Connect, communicate, care”.
Dr Somrak Choovanichwong, a psychiatrist from Srithanya Hospital, and president of the Thai Family Link Association, says depression, the economy and social circumstances are the main factors for suicide in Thailand.
A better understanding of depression is essential if these abysmal statistics are to be reduced. And reduced they must be, particularly now that the act itself is in some cases being filmed and posted on the social networks where it quickly goes viral.
“There are many factors that cause depression yet the majority of people do not want to consult a psychiatrist to receive treatment. This leads to about six people in every 100,000 being at risk of suicide,” she says.
“Committing suicide also has a knock-on effect. For example, if someone has a bad temper and is prone to act violently and one day is no longer to handle that anger, then they may commit suicide or even attack others, which could in turn lead the victim to commit suicide.
The worst-case scenario is that these people kill their family members before killing themselves and we are seeing increasing reports of this in the news.
Therefore, it is important that we create a better understanding of depression and help those who suffer from it. We all need to create a space for them to connect with other people so that they understand each other,” Dr Somrak adds.
Statistics from research carried out by the National Centre for Suicide reveal that suicide rates are highest in Lamphun Province and lowest in Pattani.
Other figures bear out international trends, with 78 per cent of suicides among men, compared to 22 percent among women. People between the ages of 40 and 44 years old were the most likely to commit suicide.
Sixty to 90 per cent of the successful suicides were suffering from depression (with some cases also involving drug use) yet only 30 per cent sought advice from a psychiatrist.
One of the most efficient ways to prevent people from committing suicide is to help those in need and help the right treatment from a psychiatrist while simultaneously creating a culture of care and understanding in the community.
“There is a high chance that those who try to commit suicide will repeat the action until they succeed.
If we do not help them the right treatment from a qualified professional, both the economy and society will be damaged.
It is encouraging that thanks to improved knowledge about mental illness, particularly bipolar problems, being caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, people no longer hesitate about being stereotyped as mad if they consult a psychiatrist,” Dr Somrak.
“For young people, it’s slightly different. They might attempt suicide as more of an impulse but it’s important to remember that they are suffering from the same feeling of hopelessness and regard life as no longer worth living.”
Depression manifests itself through a variety of symptoms ranging from a lasting feeling of sadness and hopelessness, to losing interest in the things people do or used to enjoy.
Physically, patients feel constantly tired, sleep badly, have no appetite, complain of various aches and pains and sometimes suffer from anxiety.
“During difficult times, when people feel sad, nature gives them time to heal. A low mood may improve after a short time but depression is more than just being sad, it is a intense feeling of sadness that persists for at least six weeks. People with a family history of depression are also more likely to experience it themselves.
When patients become severely depressed, they can become suicidal. Depression is a medical illness, not a sign of weakness. It is treatable with the right treatment and support from professionals and loved ones.
It is extremely important for patients to have someone they can hold on to. It means that they still have someone who cares for them and tells them that life is worth living. Many patients have been able to pull back from the brink because of that care,” she says.
“And because Thailand is seriously short of doctors and professional caretakers, with just one psychiatrist per 250,000 people, we have put together a support group known as the Shining Club. This is made up of volunteers who have experience of people with depression or even suffered from it themselves and recovered.
Patients, family members and caretakers should join and take part in the courses we offer so that they can learn what type of questions they should ask those suffering from depression and how to listen to them.
Fostering connections with those who have lost a loved one to suicide or have been suicidal themselves is crucial and equips people to communicate effectively with those who might be vulnerable to suicide,” she says.
“A healthy and loving environment for raising young children is very important. We know kids are at risk and as they grow into their teens, they become even more vulnerable.
The family lifestyle is being eroded as each member spends most of his or her time engaged with a smart device instead of with each other.
Society is very competitive and materialistic so it is crucial that parents ensure their child understands that life is worth living.
They need to be taught how to face up to problems. Good exam¬ples from parents are very important. In the large families of the past where there was often as many as eight kids, parents taught by example.
They presented a solid family unit, one where the parents were hardworking, careful with money and considerate of each other,” she says.
Depression is a silent danger to society. It is a mental health problem, and one that experts feel could one day come almost as common as cardiovascular disease.
But medications with little or no side effects are available and with the right treatment and support, most people can make a full recovery.