Coming to terms with what's in your head

Coming to terms with what's in your head

After a verse about fresh nuts sold at a floating market in Thailand -- yet sung by the world's darling chipmunk brothers Chip and Dale -- took social media by storm, people started to share comments about how they could not get the music out of their head.

It's called stuck-song syndrome, or earworm, a condition that is not a psychological illness but may disturb the mind. The verse is part of Walt Disney's Thai-themed animated short feature titled Our Floating Dreams, released late last month.

The Department of Mental Health was quick to take action this time. Worried sick about the health of all Thais, the department recently issued well-intentioned tips for people who just can't stop hearing Chip 'N' Dale chirp and who still have the song playing on a loop in their head.

A poster created by the state department has been circulated online, suggesting five techniques to keep earworm at bay. They include, first, listening to the entire song instead of some part of it, listening to other songs that do not cause the condition, engaging oneself in games or puzzles that require brain energy, staying determined and telling oneself that the condition will subside and, lastly, chewing some gum (supposedly the jaw movement will be able to interrupt the recollection of auditory memories).

At pretty much the same time the mental-health department was busy with the Chip 'N' Dale song crisis, a new set of statistics on the suicide rate in Thailand was also released. According to figures distributed by the Department of Mental Health itself, six people in Thailand attempt suicide every hour, which accounts for around 53,000 people every year. Of this number, approximately 4,000 succeed.

Comparatively, the suicide rate in 2018 was slightly higher than that in the year before -- rising from 6.03 people per hour to 6.11. Males had four-times higher suicide rate than female, with the majority of them between 35 and 39 years old. For females, the majority was in the 50-54 age group.

The two stories -- the Chip 'N' Dale-that-got-stuck-in-the-head pinch and the troubling suicide rate -- paint two identical yet contrasting pictures. Both are somehow proof that the Mental Health Department is hard at work in sending a key message about the importance of keeping mental health in check. If you cannot stop playing the song on a loop in your head and it disturbs the mind, then fix it. If someone close to you is prone to taking his or her own life, then fix it.

But should the Chip 'N' Dale-song obsession be treated as a public-health agenda, especially when it is not even a mental illness?

And while the suicide number is constantly on the rise, should the issue be highlighted rather as a more urgent public health crisis that requires immediate action?

There are a lot more measures that the state can implement to help with suicide among Thais. Apart from just raising awareness with regard to the importance of seeking professional consultation and mental-health hotline, as well as getting rid of the taboo and prejudice against those suffering from mental illness, perhaps the government can first be a role model by setting up a mental-health counselling centre in every state department.

Then they can encourage the private sector to follow suit by having an in-house psychological counsellor in each organisation, giving them incentive to do so for the sake of employees who need help.

State agencies and institutions might also set some ground rules for the media to curb their coverage of suicide cases, with strict punishment for those who break the regulations. Live coverage must be closely monitored and suicide broadcasts strictly prohibited. Big-name celebrities and influencers should be made to collaborate and send a message to the wider audience about how together they can help prevent suicide.

Technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, phone applications and digital counselling can come into play also to help as suicide prevention. But again the implementation of all this requires support and a push from the government.

Suicide has been a huge public-health issue in Thailand since forever. But because the problem has become somewhat chronic, many start addressing it as if it's a cliché. Every year the state department points out a staggering rise in suicide cases countrywide. But no one has yet implemented a concrete solution that can, at least, expect a real outcome.

Effort must be put in the right place. The right man must be assigned to the right job. Hopefully at least the country can count on the new public-health minister to solve all these chronic headaches. But first don't mess with Chip 'N' Dale.

Arusa Pisuthipan is the deputy editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

Arusa Pisuthipan

Deputy editor of the Life section

Arusa Pisuthipan is the deputy editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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