Suicide, mental anguish on the rise due to pandemic and its economic and social impact

It’s hard to grasp the devastation that has hit Thailand. But with the collapse of our healthcare system and the third wave of the coronavirus currently ravaging the country, things seem to be getting worse.

It is impacting the country’s most vulnerable the most, driving them into economic hardship and despair with suicide rates climbing.

Thais everywhere, for the first time in their lives, are witnessing things they have never seen before. People out on the streets, left homeless, out of jobs, and asking for food. An elderly woman, sitting on the pavement floor in the pouring rain, sobbing as she mourns the death of her mother to Covid-19 and waits for an entire day to get tested.

A dejected middle-aged taxi driver, alone in his car, crying as he had only earned enough to get by with gas after a whole day of driving. The country’s youth, having their childhood ripped from them, risking their lives to protest for democracy and their future.

“A term that has come up lately is ‘Pandemic Fatigue,’” said Amonthep ‘Sanju’ Sachamuneewongse, a mental health advocate and founder of SATI App, a peer support network and mental health service application based in Thailand.

“People cannot live life the way they used to. They feel hopeless, tired, and anxious for the future. And some end their lives.”

While a total of around 700,000 people called the Mental Health Hotline (1323) due to distress related to Covid-19 back in 2020, according to the Department of Mental Health, over 180,000 called in January 2021 alone.

And this was before the third wave got under way.

In 2020, the rate of suicide in Thailand was also the highest in 18 years. According to data released by the Ministry of Public Health, there were a total of over 5,086 suicides occurring between October 2019 and September 2020.

“This means that it has risen to 7.35 per 100,000 people,” said Amornthep.

What this means is that every 10 minutes, there is at least one person attempting suicide in Thailand. What is even more shocking is that these numbers may be underreported.

No resources

The problem is that Thailand barely recognizes mental health as a real issue and condition. Data and statistics on mental health issues and suicide rates in the country are still scarce and inaccurate at best, with the healthcare system unequipped and understaffed to handle the issue.

“There is one psychiatrist per 250,000 people currently working in the mental healthcare profession in Thailand, with a child psychiatrist for one in every 10,000 children,” said Amornthep. 

Statistics released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2017 also revealed that the Thai government only spends 0.30 per cent of its total health expenditure on mental health issues.

And while there are mental health professionals currently working to help those suffering under the weight of the pandemic, the majority of them are in Bangkok.

“You either have to spend a lot of time waiting to see them, or you have to come into Bangkok,” said Amornthep.

Invest in mental health, invest in the country’s future

According to a report released by the Lancet Commission as early as 2018, the rise of mental health disorders in every country in the world, if not addressed properly and collectively, could cost the global economy up to USD $16 trillion by 2030. 

“We really need to increase our investment into mental healthcare,” Amornthep added. “Or it will have really big implications on our economy as well.”

“With every one dollar invested in mental health, organizations get four times in return.”

Phone numbers of mental health organizations

The Samaritans of Thailand

Bangkok

Tel: (02) 713 6793 (Thai) 12:00 noon to 22:00 hours/day, 7 days a week

Tel: (02) 713-6791 (English call back service within 24 hours) 24 hours/day, 7 days/week

Chiang Mai

Tel: (053) 225-977/8 (Thai) 19:00 – 22:00 hrs (Mon, Tues, Thurs, Sat)

Department of Mental Health Hotline: 1323 (Thai)

Or download the on-demand listening services application:

SATI App

Email: [email protected] 

LINE: @satiapp

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