Health officials compare the country’s current economic situation to the Asian financial crisis of 1997 when suicides increased by more than 20 per cent.
Suicide rates had risen year after year in Thailand before the pandemic, but during Covid-19, the figure jumped 11 per cent from 2019 to the end of 2020; of 4,581 to 5,085 dead. These statistics were provided by the Thai Ministry of Health and made it to the British daily The Telegraph.
Thailand has the highest suicide rate of any Southeast Asian country. It is estimated that every 10 minutes someone tries to take their own life. According to a 2019 World Health Organization (WHO) report, there are 14.4 suicides per 100,000 people in Thailand. By way of comparison: in neighbouring Cambodia, this is 5.3 and in the Philippines 3.2 per 100,000.
According to Dr. Varoth Chotpitayasunondh, spokesman for the Thai Ministry of Mental Health, there are two groups that are currently most vulnerable to suicide. On the one hand, those who themselves have Covid-19 and, on the other, those who live in the ‘red zones’ of the country, the provinces where the most restrictions apply.
“These people tend to have more stress and depression than those in the green zones (areas with the least restrictions, ed.),” He knew.
It has long been feared that Covid-19, and the restrictions put in place to contain the disease, could lead to mental health problems as well as a possible rise in suicides around the world.
In addition to fear of the disease itself and possible grief among the relatives of victims, experts also point to some of the consequences of the lockdown policy. These include isolation, loneliness, the loss of social support networks, unemployment, and financial insecurity. All of that can be destructive to mental health.
Economic uncertainty is particularly toxic: a recent article in the medical journal The Lancet predicted that job losses due to the pandemic could lead to an additional 9,750 suicides per year. Almost 800,000 people are killed by suicide every year. And WHO estimates that for every death another 20 people make an attempt, although the numbers are reported far too low.
In Thailand, according to Tarkan Chensy, director of the Samaritans relief organization, the crisis helpline received 10,000 calls in 2019. But when the first lockdown restrictions were announced in March 2020, the number of calls has doubled.
Economic issues were the subject of about 80 per cent of calls to the Samaritans during the pandemic. “We are concerned about the people,” Chensy said, stressing that many continue to call the service desperately about their financial situation.
“For example, they tell us they have only 20 baht (0.53 euro) and they don’t know what to do – they have to buy milk for their child,” he said.
The latest wave of infections in Thailand has also forced the Samaritans to shut down their call center, leaving their 80 volunteers to telecommute. The charity has opened a new channel through the Facebook Messenger app.
“The younger generation is no longer comfortable talking on the phone,” added Chensy.
Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for a fifth of the Thai economy. After the country closed its borders, the number of foreign tourists fell to its lowest level in at least 12 years.
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