Even before the pandemic, the World Economic Forum estimated that there were 3 million people in Thailand with mental health issues while mental health professionals identified relationship problems and financial debt as key triggers for suicide. The Covid crisis has seen domestic violence in Thailand’s households rise by nearly 50% while household debt has also reached historically high levels amid a weak economy. It is a lethal cocktail that is taking lives on a daily basis particularly among the less well off.
Last Saturday alone in Thailand, police in two provinces, Phetchaburi and Samut Sakhon, attended what appeared to have been murder-suicide incidents involving married couples. In Samut Sakhon, it was a newlywed Burmese couple working as migrant labourers in the province while just south, also in central Thailand, in Phetchaburi, the case involved a middle-aged small businessman and his younger wife. It comes as the level of domestic violence incidents, already a significant problem for the country, has jumped by 50% with the Covid crisis while officials at the Ministry of Public Health have seen a 22% rise in suicides.
A man murdered his wife in Phetchaburi province last Saturday night and then took his own life with a shotgun. It was a similar story in the Soi Tachang village in the Krathumbaen district of Samut Sakhon province where a newly married Burmese couple, migrant workers, appeared to have taken their own lives after neighbours over the weekend heard them arguing fiercely.
The man who died in Phetchaburi province was named as 43-year-old Wichai Leeka who was a tyre repairman running a small business.
Man phoned a relative in Ayutthaya to tell him he had just murdered his 21-year-old wife
He is understood to have phoned a family relative in Ayutthaya province before taking his own life and told the man on the phone that he had murdered his wife.
The relatives frantically phoned neighbours in the Khao Yoi district of the province to run to the premises and alert the police but by the time they got there, the tragedy was complete.
The man had beaten his younger wife, 21-year-old Thanthip Pothong, with a steel bar which was found near her body with blood stains and then had used a shotgun to kill himself.
Police officers at the location of the tragedy were led by Police Lieutenant Colonel Sompong Khamthawee and were joined by a local rescue unit but there was little they could do except record the scene and remove the bodies for an autopsy.
Tragedy in the village of Soi Tachang in Samut Sakhon
On Saturday night in Samut Sakhon, a friend of a newly married Burmese migrant couple arrived in the village of Soi Tachang in the Krathumbaen district of the province.
He was told that they had not gone out to work on Saturday. The couple shared a rented room and bathroom unit.
The Burmese man was named as Mr Lin Coco.
After knocking many times, locals decided to break into the room and quickly saw a leg protruding from the bathroom area.
Police Colonel Phairat Dee Rai, the Inspector General of Krathumbaen Police Station led a police unit which entered the room and found two bodies both with fatal wounds.
However, police noted that the blood spatter and tidiness of the apartment did not indicate a struggle between the couple.
Woman’s body found in a pool of blood
Nevertheless, the room was sealed as police looked for other fingerprints after they retrieved a small scissors used for cutting thread from the bathroom area which they think may have been the implement used to inflict the injuries on the couple.
The woman’s body was found in the bathroom lying in a pool of blood while the man’s body according to police, had many wounds and was found lying next to her.
The bodies of the couple were sent to the Institute of Forensics at Siriraj Hospital. Police estimate that they had been dead for a period of four to six hours before the bodies were found.
Soaring incidence of domestic violence during the pandemic in Thailand, up by nearly 50%
Domestic violence has soared in Thailand since the coronavirus crisis with many calls to police stations being to report fatal injuries including suicide or murder.
Thailand is still a country where police authorities do not like to intrude into personal matters but key task forces within the government are trying gradually to change this.
One of them is the Human Security’s Gender Equality Promotion Division with the Ministry Of Social Development And Human Security.
Kannikar Charoenluck, the Director-general of that agency is well aware of the challenge being faced.
‘The home, which should be a safe place for women and children, can be a terrifying place where they are subjected to beatings and verbal abuse,’ she said last November after a report by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation suggested that in 2020, domestic violence had risen by 48% with an even larger jump in the country’s southern provinces where the figure was 66%. Bangkok was significantly lower at 26%.
Already at a high level with a lethal cocktail of factors still growing in potency aside from Covid 19
The cause of the sharp rise is no secret.
It is financial pressure with a continued depression of income and dwindling resources in the country’s hardest-hit households because of the pandemic.
Ms Kannikar estimated that there were already on average 1,400 cases of serious domestic abuse each year over the four year period leading up to the pandemic.
These are fueled by relationship issues, financial problems and debt as well as mental health issues and substance abuse, a deadly cocktail that is increasing in potency at this time.
3 million people in Thailand have mental health issues
Even before the Covid 19 crisis, the pressure of growing household debt was a key factor according to mental health experts in Thailand and accounts for the estimated 3 million people in the kingdom based on World Economic Forum data, who suffer from mental health issues. That’s 4.3% of the population.
We also know that Thailand has a stigma attached to mental health in what remains a very conservative country where mental health problems are viewed in an unsympathetic light.
Strong links between debt and suicide in Thailand
The strong link between mental health problems and financial debt is an Asian phenomenon.
Results of a research project, in February 2020, by the respected journal Frontiers in Psychology identified a pronounced link in Asia between debt levels and a deterioration in mental health. The survey included a paper submitted by mental health professionals in Thailand.
A 2013 study into rates of suicide and mental instability in Thailand, found a pronounced danger in Bangkok where 9.1% of the population had a problem while over 5% had a problem with substance addiction.
The survey suggested that 32% of these had suicidal issues with 15% having experienced at least one psychotic incident.
Thailand ranks 32nd in the world for suicides and highest in the 10 nation ASEAN community in Southeast Asia.
Swell of cheap narcotics is fuelling the problem
However, the problem has worsened since then across the country with higher levels of household debt, a growing problem with cheap narcotics and the tsunami of mental health issues generated by the pandemic in Thailand, as in many other countries.
Drugs such as crystal methamphetamine are flooding across Thailand’s porous borders and are being made available on a wider basis at lower prices to those with, as they perceive it, little enough to live for in the first place.
Every 10 minutes in Thailand someone attempts suicide according to 2018 data but it jumped in 2020
Even before the crisis, the kingdom’s problems had worsened with the World Economic Forum in 2018 sharing some extremely disturbing data.
Every 10 minutes in Thailand, it revealed, someone attempts to take their own life. Every two hours, there is a death in the kingdom from suicide while in that year, 4,134 suicides were officially recorded.
22% spike in suicides due to the Covid crisis
In September last year, the Director-General of the Mental Health Department at the Ministry of Public Health, Dr Kiartipoom Wongrachit identified a spike of 22% for 2020 in the rate of suicides with 2,551 deaths from January to June that year.
This led to an initiative pushed by the Crime Suppression Division of the Royal Thai Police to proactively seek to curb the incidence of suicide at this time of national emergency from the end of last year.
Poor economy is driving the misery
Many public health experts will also admit that the true rate of suicide is far higher with many Thai families preferring to cover the situation up if they can.
In the meantime, economists point to 2021 being an even more difficult year for the country’s poorest and most vulnerable families with rising levels of debt, a stubbornly high unemployment rate and income prospects severely challenged.