BANGKOK: As the COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on tens of millions of jobs in Thailand final 12 months, Unyakarn Booprasert discovered herself penniless and with no pals or relations who may assist.
The 59-year-old was splitting one packet of immediate noodles between three meals. She was determined for the 15,000 baht (S$655) promised by the federal government, to be paid over three months, beneath its No One Left Behind money aid scheme.
When she learnt she was among the many 15 million candidates who didn’t qualify for assist, Unyakarn determined to plead her case to Thailand’s authorities final April.
“When I got to the Ministry of Finance, sure enough, they didn’t listen,” stated the cleaner. “From their actions, a poor person was similar to a pig or a dog, an animal with scabies.”
Unyakarn tried to kill herself with rat poison in entrance of the ministry’s constructing. “I wanted to protest. It didn’t happen only to me. It happened to many people,” she instructed the programme Undercover Asia.
I believed that the federal government wished to eliminate the poor within the nation. So I made their want come true by eliminating one individual, one life.
After her suicide try, the authorities regarded into her case once more and determined she certified for the aid.
Suicides in Thailand have gone up amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A complete of two,551 folks killed themselves within the first half of final 12 months, up 22 per cent from the identical interval in 2019. Health officers attributed the rise to pandemic-related stress.
Groups significantly impacted by the pandemic’s fallout embody tourism staff, intercourse staff and migrants. Foreign tourism, which makes up 12 per cent of Thailand’s gross home product, has collapsed as nations curb worldwide journey to battle the unfold of COVID-19.
Sex staff, in the meantime, might not be registered within the social safety system and have restricted entry to authorities assist, stated economist Thanaporn Sriyakul.
Rural-to-urban migrants have additionally confronted problem getting assist beneath the No One Left Behind scheme, as they could be labeled in authorities data as farmers, who come beneath a unique monetary scheme.
A PROBLEM EVEN BEFORE COVID-19
The same spike in suicides occurred through the 1997 Asian monetary disaster, when the numbers elevated by about 20 to 25 per cent, stated Varoth Chotpitayasunondh, spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Health’s Department of Mental Health.
But even earlier than the coronavirus created financial hardship, Thailand had the highest suicide price in Southeast Asia — which has seen mental health specialists and advocates pushing for extra sources to deal with the issue.
WATCH: Thailand’s mental health disaster: Why is its suicide price so excessive? (4:12)
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2019, Thailand’s annual suicide price was 14.4 per 100,000 of the inhabitants, whereas the worldwide age-standardised common is 10.5 per 100,000. Age-standardised means variations arising from nations’ completely different age constructions have been eliminated.
By comparability, the suicide charges within the different Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states on the WHO listing various from 3.2 (the Philippines) to 11.2 (Singapore) per 100,000 inhabitants.
There is a suicide try each 10 minutes in Thailand.
Deep-seated cultural and financial causes contribute to Thailand’s comparatively excessive suicide price, in line with the Singapore University of Social Sciences’ affiliate professor Antonio L Rappa, who has studied Thai tradition, historical past and politics for over 20 years.
Apart from financial elements, he stated the Thai folks’s “long history of being warriors” has imbued their psyche with the “idea of death”.
The nation’s protest tradition means folks could also be keen to die “as a means to mark their cause”, whereas Theravada Buddhism, which is extensively practised, teaches acceptance, he added.
During the pandemic, suicide helplines such because the one operated by the Samaritans of Thailand have been swamped. Stories surfaced on social media of hotline calls going unanswered.
Varoth acknowledged that even after doubling the variety of strains to twenty for the Department of Mental Health, it takes 10 to 12 minutes earlier than somebody can reply a name.
“Some people don’t want to wait until that time. They want it to be within five minutes, and it’s still very difficult,” he stated. “The drop rate of the hotline now is still around 40 to 45 per cent.”
But he added that the federal government gives “very good” assist for folks with mental health points — akin to by way of common health protection that gives mental health therapy in public hospitals for round 30 baht.
Suicide survivor and mental health advocate Amornthep “Sanju” Sachamuneewongse, nevertheless, flagged gaps akin to a scarcity of mental health staff, the lengthy wait at authorities hospitals and the a lot greater value of therapy in personal hospitals.
The 30-year-old developed hallucinations and different signs of despair and schizophrenia 5 years in the past, and wanted nearly a 12 months to be correctly identified.
He initially underwent a magnetic resonance imaging scan, which got here out clear, and was taken by his mother and father to a non secular physician earlier than he lastly noticed a psychiatrist.
He had harboured suicidal ideas, however a number of calls to suicide hotlines went unanswered. “If my call was unanswered, how many other calls were unanswered as well?” he puzzled.
HIP-HOP AND ONLINE CHATS
Varoth acknowledged the necessity to enhance mental health consciousness and sources. In a bid to take action, Thai authorities are partnering non-profit teams, expertise corporations and even the leisure business.
Amid motion curbs when COVID-19 first started spreading, officers initially deliberate to spherical up homeless folks — a gaggle that has the next prevalence of psychiatric issues and suicide danger — and home them in shelters.
But social employee Adchara Saravari of the Issarachon Foundation, which helps the homeless in Bangkok, stated: “We told them, ‘Let the homeless stay put. Don’t enforce the curfew on them. Let them sleep where they are. It’d be enough to reduce the spread.”
WATCH: The full episode — What’s behind Thailand’s alarming suicide price? (46:07)
This resulted in a collaboration between the folks sector and the federal government to supervise homeless folks inside an space, she stated.
But limitations stay. The homeless could not carry identification playing cards, making it tough to confirm information and for them to qualify for therapy, famous Adchara. They shouldn’t be blamed, she added, and the federal government ought to “take charge” and “support them”.
To attain out to members of the general public, the Thai authorities has arrange a particular operations workforce known as the Hope Task Force, which makes use of social media platforms akin to Facebook, TikTook and the Line app to speak with victims.
These platforms present extra channels of assist and permit volunteers and mental health specialists to allocate sources extra effectively. For occasion, they could chat with a couple of individual at a time online.
The Department of Mental Health additionally developed the app, Mental Health Check Up. Users could reply a collection of questions on their chosen matters, which embody burnout, stress ranges and despair.
Sanju, too, created a cell app after his expertise with the manpower crunch in mental health care: Sati is a digital hotline for customers with mental health points to talk with individuals who have been skilled to pay attention.
To attain out to youths specifically, the authorities collaborated with Unicef and music platform Joox Thailand final 12 months on a marketing campaign known as The Sound of Happiness, which featured podcasts, songs and celebrities speaking about mental health.
One of the songs, Nai Lao (Let’s Talk) by report label YUPP!’s hip-hop artists Autta, Blacksheep and Milli, turned a favorite amongst younger listeners.
“When we were discussing (the track), we thought of the line, ‘Some people choose ‘lao’ (to drink) over ‘lao’ (to tell),” stated music producer and YUPP! founder Sakkapit Makun, explaining the pun within the title.
“The words have the same pronunciation but different meanings. It sounds simple. The lyrics are casual so that we can use it among friends. So it became the song Nai Lao.”
Suicide and mental health needs to be “the problem of everyone”, stated Varoth.
“Right now, yes, we lack the resources to help with the mental health issue in Thailand because of COVID-19,” he famous.
“But we can solve this problem by inviting many parties, talking to many people, doing collaborations between organisations who are interested in mental health and letting Thai people decide to come together, help each other.”
Watch this episode of Undercover Asia here. Catch the brand new season on Saturdays at 9pm.
If you need assistance, name the Thai Department of Mental Health hotline at 1323, or the Samaritans of Thailand at 02-713-6793.
In Singapore, you possibly can name the Institute of Mental Health helpline at 6389-2222, or the Samaritans of Singapore at 1800-221-4444.