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Thailand

Economic problems spark rise in Thai suicide rate

Pandemic and mental health issues caused by social media use are worsening the situation

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Published: November 23, 2021 06:17 AM GMT

Updated: November 23, 2021 06:27 AM GMT

Economic problems spark rise in Thai suicide rate

A model films a video for social media with a Honda motorcycles employee at the 42nd Bangkok International Motor Show in Thailand on March 26. (Photo: AFP)

The suicide rate in Thailand, especially among teenagers, is on the rise, with experts attributing it to increased stress and despondency fueled by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and resultant economic problems.

According to data from last year, the nationwide suicide rate has risen to 7.37 per 100,000 people from 6.64 the year before.

Among Thai teenagers between the ages of 10 and 19, the rate is five per 100,000, which is especially worrying, according to experts at the country’s Mental Health Department.

Many youngsters commit suicide after feeling depressed over their situation in school or at home, experts say.

Extensive use of social media and other online tools can also lead to mental health issues in young Thais, many of whom spend as many as 10 hours a day on the internet.

At the same time, a severe economic downturn owing to the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the state of mental health for millions over the past year.

Even before the recent marked increase in the rate of suicides, Thailand already had the highest rate within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Thai males are more than four and a half times more likely to commit suicide than females, data shows.

The current rate of suicides in Thailand, which takes on average between 4,000 and 4,500 lives annually in a nation of 70 million, is considered very high by regional standards.

By way of comparison, the Philippines had a suicide rate of 2.2 per 100,000 or less than a third of the rate in Thailand.

Even before the recent marked increase in the rate of suicides, Thailand already had the highest rate within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as the World Health Organization (WHO) found in 2019.

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“It has to be accepted that economic factors have become a serious issue [in 2021],” said Dr. Nattakorn Jampathong, director of the National Suicide Prevention Centre, which operates a 24/7 hotline for people feeling suicidal.

In one widely reported incident on Nov. 15, a 34-year-old woman got out of her car on a bridge at a motorway near Bangkok at night, leaving her three-year-old daughter in the vehicle, and jumped to her death into a canal.   

Her family said the woman, who was a single mother, had been experiencing emotional and financial problems before her suicide.

Prominent observers have warned that many Thais, especially younger ones, are at risk of suicidal despondency and that many of them lack adequate access to counseling and mental health provision.

“Unemployment, underemployment, debt, destitution, stress, depression and suicide are the invisible realities beneath the Covid-19 iceberg of figures reported daily,” Pravit Rojanaphruk, a journalist and popular commentator, said in July.

“Not all suicides are reported as being Covid-19 related unless it’s dramatic,” he added.

A holistic approach to suicide prevention is needed if Thailand is to avoid seeing the rate of people who take their own lives rise even higher, Nattakorn stressed.

“We should not be looking at the problem of suicides as just a [mental] health problem but as a social and economic problem that has a complex relationship with personal factors,” the physician said.

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