Jump in suicide cases linked to Covid-19 stress

Jump in suicide cases linked to Covid-19 stress

Health officials, police join hands to curb problem

Pedestrians wearing face masks to prevent the Covid-19 walk on an overpass near the Victory Monument on Saturday. The coronavirus outbreak makes people stressful, leading to suicide. (Photo by Nutthawat Wicheanbut)
Pedestrians wearing face masks to prevent the Covid-19 walk on an overpass near the Victory Monument on Saturday. The coronavirus outbreak makes people stressful, leading to suicide. (Photo by Nutthawat Wicheanbut)

A rise in the suicide rate has set alarming bells ringing among health officials as they were certain that the increase was related to the outbreak of the coronavirus that makes lives stressful.

Figures of the Mental Health Department released on Thursday showed 2,551 people had killed themselves in the first half of this year, up 22% from the same period of last year, when 2,092 cases were reported.

Personal problems, depression, economic pressure and alcohol were the reasons leading people to take their own lives, according to the department.

The release of the data came on the World Suicide Prevention Day on Thursday.

The increasing suicidal rate this year has reminded public health officials of the financial meltdown in 1997 as it followed the same pattern. The rates of people committing suicide after the 1997 financial crisis leaped by between 20% and 30%, it added.

Department director-general Kiattiphum Wongrajit linked the increase in the suicide cases this year to the outbreak of the deadly virus and described the trend as "worrisome".

His assessment was in line with various studies in Thailand and abroad.

A study by Chiang Mai University in March showed 38 suicide attempts were linked to stress associated with the lockdown and 28 of them ended up in deaths. The research was conducted weeks after the government implemented the lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus, which subsequently led factories and companies to temporarily close or permanently shut down.

Oxford University released a study on the impact of the pandemic on suicide rates in the International Journal of Medicine in June and found stress from Covid-19 played a part in the issue. It warned that the problem could linger after the outbreak ends.

"The Covid-19 crisis may increase suicide rates during and after the pandemic," the study said. "Mental health consequences of the Covid-19 crisis including suicidal behaviours are likely to be present for a long time and peak later than the actual pandemic," it added.

In an effort to prevent more suicides, the department has sought help from the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) in monitoring social media for distress signs or cry for help as more people turn to social media when they do so.

The trend could be seen in Noppaklao Noivijit, who asked a fisherman to film a video clip of him jumping off a bridge in Kabin Buri district of Prachin Buri on Aug 24 to take his own life. The fisherman then grabbed him and talked him into giving up the attempt.

CSD chief Pol Maj Gen commander Jirabhop Bhuridej said the police agency would closely coordinate with the department and social media administrators to find people planning to take their lives if they post messages on Facebook and other social media platforms.

The CSD can alert nearest police to intervene until public health officials arrive, he added.


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