Elite police unit to begin monitoring social media sites looking out for vulnerable people in distress followed by a local police intervention along with public health officials. The latest figures are from the first six months of the year but an Oxford University study suggests that the fall out from the virus emergency, in terms of mental health, may not, in fact, peak until after the worldwide crisis is over.

Figures for the first six months of 2020 show that Covid 19 has cost more lives in Thailand through suicide than through the virus itself with a 22% rise from last year being recorded. The figures, described by the Director General of Thailand’s Department of Mental Health, Dr Kiartipoom Wongrachit, as ‘worrisome’ on Thursday, has led to Thailand’s elite Crime Suppression Police division led by Police Major General Jirapob Phuridet, launching a social media surveillance operation to monitor and intervene where cases of likely suicide are detected. This is part of an overall campaign being instigated by the government seeking cooperation also from the media and the public.

The Director-General of the Mental Health Department at the Ministry of Public Health, Dr Kiartipoom Wongrachit, described the figures for suicide in the first 6 months of 2020 as ‘worrisome’ as officials concede that it is linked do the Covid 19 virus emergency. The scale of the problem has led to plans being advanced for a more proactive response to suicide prevention with the Commander of the Crime Suppression Division, Police Major General Jirapob Phuridet (right) deploying his officers in an online social network surveillance operation to detect at-risk people.

On Wednesday night in Pattaya, howling dogs led local man Thanapong Kosonsitthikul to a pitiful sight. A young man, a motorbike taxi driver in the once-bustling resort city now coping with a dearth of economic activity driven by foreign tourism, had hanged himself from a tree.

He left a note to his lover.

Thailand has the highest suicide rate in Southeast Asia’s ASEAN block of 10 states.

The country ranks number 32 in the world with medical experts in Thailand highlighting issues such as financial problems, debt and the breakdown of personal relationships as the key triggers for suicide in the kingdom.

Dramatic jump in suicides being linked to the Covid 19 emergency in Thailand just revealed

On Thursday, Thai officials revealed that the suicide rate in the kingdom had jumped dramatically since the Covid 19 emergency arose.

The Director-General of the Mental Health Department at the Ministry of Public Health appealed to the media, the public and to police authorities to form a proactive alliance to counter what is a disturbing rise in suicide in the first 6 months of 2020.

Dr Kiartipoom revealed that there had been a 22% spike in suicides in the period compared to last year. The Department of Mental Health chief put this down to depression, personal problems and economic circumstances.

Primary driver in suicide spike is the virus

Officials are openly admitting that the primary cause of the surge in death by suicide is the Covid 19 emergency which has impacted nearly all areas of economic life in Thailand since last March.

The figures, released this week, show a total suicide number of 2,551 in the period from January to June 2020 compared to 2092 cases for those months last year. That equates to 3.89 people for every 100,000 in the population.

Crime Suppression Police to play a role in proactive efforts to combat the rising number of suicides

The Commander of the Crime Suppression Police Division, Major General Jirapob Phuridet, disclosed that his officers are now being deployed in a major drive to become more proactive in preventing suicides. 

Government officials have also set up a hotline number 1323 to invite the public to provide tip-offs and intelligence to the campaign.

Chiang Mai University survey in April flagged the problem clearly with self-employed most at risk

The scale of the problem was flagged by a Chiang Mai University research project when the Covid 19 emergency broke out which demonstrated a significant rise in potential suicides for a 1 month period that was analysed. 

The survey and research conducted in April, at the height of the emergency, showed that the scale of the dynamic as Covid 19 began to abruptly destroy livelihoods from the end of March.

A key finding of the research conducted in association also with Chulalongkorn University was that 92% of the additional suicides because of the Covid 19 outbreak were small business people or self-employed workers.

65-year-old man took his life in Bangkok at the end of August under particularly sad circumstances 

The poignant nature of the tragedy unfolding throughout the country was thrown into relief at the end of August when a 65-year-old man, worried about the pressing mortgage arrears on his home, threw himself off a bridge in Bangkok. 

When police recovered Mr Narong’s body, his 31-year-old son Charnnarong told the media that he had paid off his father’s home loan arrears and brought things up to date already.

He did not tell the older man as he wished, instead, to give him a pleasant surprise.

Top official – the numbers are ‘worrisome’

Dr Kiattiphum, on Wednesday, described the latest figures as ‘worrisome’ and is urging a concerted response from the government, the media, the public and the police to practically counter the trend.

Thailand’s experience is not unlike what is also being seen in other countries worldwide as the extent of the virus catastrophe becomes increasingly apparent and drags on. 

A study by Oxford University in June published in the International Journal of Medicine identified the Covid 19 virus situation as a driver in suicides.

The study also warned that the mental health implications of the virus may not yet have peaked and may also extend for a considerable period after the crisis has ended.

‘The Covid-19 crisis may increase suicide rates during and after the pandemic,’ the study stated. ‘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.’

Crime Suppression Police Division to begin online social media surveillance seeking out vulnerable people with a view to intervening

In Thailand, the initiative being taken by the Crime Suppression Division now includes the monitoring and surveillance of social media to detect vulnerable people who are exhibiting signs of distress or mental health issues linked to the current crisis.

The police are anxious to have the cooperation of social media platforms such as Facebook in this initiative. 

The plan is that, once a case is identified, local police can respond on the ground and make an intervention. Police will then hand the case over to public health officials who will also be alerted to each incident.

There has been a pattern of suicidal people leaving messages of distress or indirect pleas for help on social media.

Thailand has also witnessed several horrific situations where people have committed suicide live on Facebook.

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Further reading:

65-year-old man in Bangkok commits suicide over his mortgage arrears already paid off by his son

Mysterious death of Australian man found on Saturday in Pattaya ruled as suicide, case closed by local police

92% of suicides due to the virus are among the self-employed according to expert research group in academia

Bizarre and macabre tragedy in Udon Thani as deranged man murders his wife and daughters over college debt

Businessman murders wife, commits suicide in Bangkok over trade downturn and money issues

Thai wife with cancer decides to take her handsome husband with her in a desperate act of murder-suicide

Police in Pathum Thani find family dead in a car – thought to be a suicide pact as police find charcoal stove

Top doc wants a halt to all foreigners entering Thailand again warning of a 2nd virus breakout due to the influx