The teenage boy who threatened suicide twice in a week is not simply a case of bullying, adolescence or family problems, but a symptom of a larger mental health crisis sweeping Thailand during the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 2,551 Thais – and an unknown number of foreigners – killed themselves in the first half of 2020 – a 22 percent increase over the same period last year, according to newly released data from the country’s Mental Health Department.
The last time such a dramatic increase in suicides was documented was after the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, which saw millions of Thais lose their savings overnight.
Dr. Teerajet Leelapakpien, a psychiatrist at Bangkok Hospital Pattaya, acknowledged that suicides have increased as Thailand’s Covid-19 lockdown and subsequent recession have deepened economic woes.
Typically, depression affects one in ten people worldwide due largely to society’s shift to online interaction, political and cultural polarization, and personal isolation.
In March, just as the lockdown began, a team of researchers at Chiang Mai University linked 38 suicide attempts, of which 28 resulted in deaths, to increased levels of stress from the unfolding pandemic and its economic impacts.
The researchers laid some of the blame for increasing despair among many Thais on inadequate government measures to help newly unemployed people in a country where an adequate social safety net is unavailable to most of the neediest people.
“Suicide cases indicate the government’s gross failure in handling the situation,” the Thai researchers said. “Some people were driven to take their own lives.”
The 15-year-old who stood atop two pedestrian bridges in Pattaya and Sattahip this month was in the second stage of clinical depression, exemplified by boredom and unhappiness, Teerajet said. The next phase is lethargy, tiredness and a lack of energy.
But depression in any stage is curable, Teerajet said. The most-effective cures are emotional support from friends and family members, counseling and psychotherapy. Antidepressants also may be used in some cases. But the earlier the treatment, the better, he said.
Major factors in preventing depression include good nutrition, especially foods with Omega 3 and vitamins E, C and D, copper and iron. Doctors also recommend 30-40 minutes of continuous exercise – something simple as speed walking – four days a week – getting enough sleep and even meditation.