Thailand’s suicide numbers leap, but explanations vary

Manoon Jaitong, a Sawangboriboon volunteer, has been collecting bodies for 20 years.

Thailand’s national suicide rate has risen eleven percent since the pandemic began, according to figures released by the Thai Ministry of Health. The increase has been from 4,581 to 5,085 individual cases. The World Health Organization says that Thailand has 14.4 suicides per 100,000 people compared to 5.3 in Cambodia and 3.2 in the Philippines.

Admittedly not all Thai suicides are Covid-related. Pattaya Mail in recent months reported several suicides in Pattaya apparently caused by the breakup of relationships. As regards foreigner deaths, the misery of lifestyle diseases and the inability to fund hospital treatment have certainly taken their toll. Individual embassies keep a record of the death of their nationals, but there is no centrally-released data.

But, as the Lancet reported, there are well-founded fears that Covid itself and the restrictions brought in to contain it have led to a mental health crisis. Around two million Thais have lost their jobs in tourist-related industries in the past fifteen months, leading to isolation, the loss of social support networks and financial insecurity in many cases.

Bangkok-based Samaritan director Tarkan Chensy said that calls had doubled since the crisis began with lack of cash and allied economic issues accounting for about 80 percent of the 20,000 contacts made. He explained that the latest wave of infections had forced the charitable organization to close their call center with 80 volunteers now working from home.

The Samaritans use a call-back service, so callers have to wait up to 24 hours before receiving human support. The charity has opened up a new channel via the Facebook messenger app. partly because younger people in distress don’t feel comfortable using traditional phone procedures.

The Thai government has introduced several schemes to provide cash for hard-hit individuals and families, but the results have been mixed. Registration can be difficult, or even impossible, for Thais who work informally or in the flesh trade. In response the Bangkok authorities have established a special operations team Hope Task Force which uses social media platforms including Facebook, Tik Tok and the Line app.

The Naklua-based Sawangboriboon Foundation, which transports corpses on behalf of the police, said that the main methods of suicide were hanging and poison. Bodies are autopsied prior to cremation or – if nobody can be found to take responsibility – in the Foundation’s hillside graveyard. Most deceased foreigners are autopsied in the police forensics headquarters in Bangkok with a report submitted to the appropriate embassy.