Opinion: The Uncounted COVID-19 Related Suicides in Thailand

Photo: Prakaifa / Facebook
Photo: Prakaifa / Facebook

Daily updates of COVID-19-related statistics saw three consecutive new highs for COVID-19 deaths from Wednesday to Friday. Yet there’s no compilation or report on the number of those who committed suicide due to COVID-19 related situations.

Friday saw a new high of 61 deaths reported. That’s on top of the previous new high of 57 on Thursday and yet another previous new high of 53 deaths on Wednesday.

As for the newly infected: 6,087 new infections were reported on Friday and 5,533 on Thursday. With only 3,638 recovered reported on Friday, it means 2,449 additional beds were needed on Friday alone.

No one is compiling COVID-19-related suicide figures over the past year and a half, however. You won’t be seeing any stats on those who committed suicide due to COVID-19-related stress and destitution.

Nevertheless, the past two weeks saw at least two such cases reported by the media.

Unemployment, underemployment, debt, destitution, stress, depression, and suicide are the invisible realities beneath the COVID-19 iceberg of figures reported daily. Not all suicides are reported as being COVID-19 related unless it’s dramatic.

The past week saw two cases. Last Saturday saw a 30-year-old unemployed singer jump to her death from a third-floor parking garage in the northern part of Bangkok. Yesterday saw a 84-year-old man who took his life in a similar fashion in Bangkok after her daughter, bed-ridden at home, was unable to find a hospital bed after becoming infected and died waiting.

In the first case, Prakaifa Pooldoung was 30, less than a week short of her 31st birthday when she decided to end her life.

Prakaifa has been largely unemployed as a singer and guitarist since March last year.

Her boyfriend, Suwatchai Pornkulwat, said the singer had attempted to commit suicide once before a few months ago, but was saved. He said he thought her girlfriend was doing better after receiving mental health treatment.

Prakaifah’s suicide attracted many to check out her songs on her Youtube channel. A 6-minute video clip she posted on her Facebook page offering moral support to those sharing similar fate went viral posthumously.

“I am a professional singer who has become unemployed for two months now. All my gigs have been cancelled and my income = 0,” she wrote back on May, 20, 2020, or 13 months ago, adding that “it’s terrible because I have to sing everyday” to earn a living.

Prior to the first outbreak, Prakaifa said she has been doing the job for nine years and she “was comfortable” and “there was nothing to worry” until the onset of COVID-19.

Despite her initial positive thinking and watching soap series at home, the period of 13 months that followed eventually took a fatal toll on Prakaifa.

“I stayed at home for so long to the point where I could almost chat with my cat and understand. Damn, I feel so disheartened,” she said, adding that she tried becoming an online VJ.

Her boyfriend said she tried selling noodles, composing songs, but to no avail as she struggled to earn income not just for herself but to support her elderly parents. The suffering of those who committed suicide may be quickly over, but for the loved ones left behind, it’s a new tragic beginning.

The irony is that it took a dramatic suicide to make it into the kind of news that would attract a wider public attention. It’s too late now. Prakaifa is gone for good and this is probably the tip of iceberg of COVID-19-related suicide. It also shows that the middle class are definitely not immune to the economic crisis induced by the coronavirus and the government’s inept management, particularly the ongoing outbreak which is pushing many into bankruptcy or heavy debt.

The only vague reference made by the government’s Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration on growing stress and hopelessness occurred when spokesman Taweesin Wisanuyothin said on television Tuesday that people are “drained emotionally and mentally” and urged for moral support to be given to one another.

Taweesin’s boss, Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha, seems unable to express empathy and is often all smiles and joking when talking about COVID-19 as the situation deteriorates.

I end this column by translating into English the last passage of the video clip Prakaifa made in Thai.

Posthumously, by Friday, it was viewed over 672,000 times and attracted 1,100 comments, and shared 7,900 times. Many expressed condolences below the clip.

Prakaifa said once she knew she became unemployed, it was no longer funny. It’s tragic to see someone taking his or her own life because the person could no longer bear the pain of the struggle to make both ends meet. Thai health professionals need to work more and be proactive to prevent suicides, particularly at this very difficult economic time.

Here is Prakaifah, in her own words, when she was still optimistic a year ago at the end of her now-viral clip: “I know that at this time, many people are sad and really disheartened. But I believe we shall persevere together. I believe that one day we shall march ahead stronger. So, I want to be one voice of support. Everyone, please take good care and will see you all again when the situation permits. Keep fighting. Su su na!”