Rice-scheme woes not major factor in suicides, agency says

Thai farmers hold protest placards as they protest the government's repeatedly delayed payments for rice submitted to the pledging scheme at the Government's temporary office in the permanent secretary for defence suburb of Bangkok February 10, 2014.

Debts stemming from participation in the government's rice-pledging scheme were not the major reason for the recent suicides of a number of farmers, according to the state mental-health agency.

The Mental Health Department sent a team to investigate the causes of the suicides of 13 rice farmers during the past few weeks.

Department deputy director-general Dr Panpimol Wipulakorn said the investigation found that nine of them had committed suicide because they owed a large number of informal debts. Three committed suicide as they had been suffering from congenital diseases. The remaining farmer's suicide could not be linked to the rice-pledging scheme.

"We found that the main risk factors for committing suicide were mental-health problems, physical ailments and family problems. Economic problems caused by large informal debts was also a main factor leading them to commit suicide," Panpimol said.

The rice farmers who committed suicide were aged between 40 and 60. Most had complained of feeling depressed and frustrated. Some had harmed themselves or tried to commit suicide on previous occasions.

In a related development, the department found that about nine rice farmers among those protesting in front of the Commerce Ministry were at risk from suffering depression. The department has instructed protest leaders to keep a close eye on this group and provide them with counselling services.

Panpimol said the department had received many reports over the past few years about rice farmers committing suicide because of their crops being affected by natural disasters, and because of their large financial burdens.

People are urged to keep a close eye on family members who may be at risk of committing suicide, she said.

"Farmers should learn that all problems can be solved step by step," she added.

Farmers who are prone to depression are at risk of committing suicide and are advised to consult health volunteers or hospitals.

Panpimol said that according to the World Health Organisation, negative news reports were an additional factor leading farmers to take their own lives.

"When [at-risk people] receive a lot of information about others committing suicide, it puts them at [greater] risk of committing suicide," she said.

Media are urged against constantly repeating reports of suicide as this could trigger "copycat" suicides, she said.

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