Thursday, April 16, 2009

Suicides in Asia rising in recession

Today I read in UK's The Independent newspaper: "Over 1,500 farmers in an Indian state committed suicide after being driven to debt by crop failure." Falling water levels, no doubt contributed by global warming, has resulted in fewer crops for the farmers.

I tried to find out how many Cambodians commit suicide but unsurprisingly, there are no available statistics. When I lived in Phnom Penh, I knew of two suicides in the neighbourhood. Both were due to domestic disputes: an elderly man killed himself after drinking and quarreling with his wife. The other one was a woman. (Just on domestic violence: there is the infamous case of a woman killing her husband because of his gambling losses. The couple owned one of the most popular Chinese restaurants on Monivorng Boulevard which subsequently shut down).

A 2008 report on Singapore's suicide rates found that the number of suicides dropped from 419 in 2006 to 374 in 2007 (about 2% of total deaths). This was the first decrease in four years and the reduction was attributed to the 2007's strong economy. “Unemployment figures are known to have cause and effect on suicide figures,” Ms Christine Wong, executive director of suicide prevention group Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) was quoted as saying.

"Rise in suicides across Asia feared amid recession" is an April 2, 2009 story:
"Suicide Prevention Services, a non-governmental group in Hong Kong, said it had seen a 45 percent increase in calls for help in the past three months, compared with the same period last year."


"During a recession, there's definitely bound to be a jump in cases of suicide, mainly because of unemployment," said Chia Boon Hock, who runs a private psychiatric practice in Singapore.

Chia, who has studied suicide trends in Singapore, added that the three main peaks occurred during the Great Depression, before and during World War Two and in 1985, the first year the Singapore economy had fallen into recession since independence 20 years earlier.
A spokesperson for SOS says official figures show there are 7 attempts for every successful suicide in Singapore, but the figure is likely to be higher, as not every attempted suicide is reported. It is illegal to attempt suicide in Singapore and anyone who survive faces a jail term of up to a year, a fine or both. It is funny that some believe the corpses of suicide victims in Singapore are caned because they still need to be punished for the crime. I'm sure it's not true simply because it is a waste of resources in efficient Singapore.

South Korea is the Asian country with the highest suicide rate, ranking #8 on a international list. Japan is #11, Hong Kong #18, the PRC #26, India #46, Singapore #48, Thailand #57, the Philippines #86. Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and Burma do not figure.

I did find this bizarre news item about suicide in Cambodia. Roger Graham, a strange Californian who lived in Kampot, ran a website which stated: "In Cambodia anything is possible. For those of you who prefer to take charge of your own destiny, come to Cambodia! Live your life the way you want and end it when you are ready."

In 2005, a British woman found the site and sent emails. She arrived in Kampot where a few days later, she wrote a five-page suicide note and overdosed on medicines and alcohol in a £5-a-night guesthouse.

Graham was then 57 years old and owned the Blue Mountain Coffee and Internet Cafe in Kampot. He was eventually deported by the Cambodian government. "Cambodia is not the place for foreigners to kill themselves," National Deputy Police chief Gen. Sok Phal was quoted as saying.

One last point on suicide: in the US, reports The New York Times , there has been an usually large increases in suicides among the middle-aged, which is puzzling researchers. The suicide rate among 45-to-54-year-olds increased nearly 20 percent from 1999 to 2004, the latest year studied, far outpacing changes in nearly every other age group. For women 45 to 54, the rate leapt 31 percent. “That is certainly a break from trends of the past,” said Ann Haas, the research director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.


Andrew and Amanda said...

It's really a startling case when people begin committing suicide. In India there are many stories of farmers selling organs or killing themselves because of debts accrued for pesticides and seeds. Ironically and sadly enough many take their lives by drinking pesticides.

Sad, sad world sometimes but maybe fair trade can make it better!

Andrew Grimes JSCCP, JCP, M.Sc.Pth said...

Many Asian countries were developing modern mental health care systems in the 70's. The early pioneers of that generation, including psychiatrists who were trained in France, disappeared in the purges of the Pol Pot regime. The following article link may be of some interest:

During the Pol Pot period from 1975 to 1979 it is estimated that 1.7 million people were killed or died in captivity.

The two psychiatrists practicing in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975 were sent to do farm labour disappeared without trace. The only Mental Health Hospital, built in 1960's, was closed. Psychiatric patients were killed or sent to work in the fields.

As of 2002 in Cambodia serving a population of about 12 million people there are approximately only 350 mental health care providers including 20 psychiatrists, 20 psychiatric nurses and 215 psychiatric clinical psychologists. Through the incredible efforts of people like these individual psychiatric practice and individual and group counseling programs have been established in Phnom Pen and some of the provinces of Cambodia.

Diana Saw said...

Yes Amanda it's horrific when people feel they have no options than to end their lives. Very very sad. But as you said, each of us can do something to make the world more just!

Thanks Dr Grimes. I just posted another entry on Mental Illness in Cambodia. It's amazing that people here can function socially at all, given what many have been through.

Tola said...

this from 'a very strange american', roger graham:

my new web site is

a person has one life to live. when the time comes for them to face the reality of their own impending death it seems to me that a rational, sensible, and reasonable person would prefer that their death be both peaceful and painless.

without taking control of their own end of life choices a person will be subject to the vagaries of a 'natural death', which is likely to be painful, debilitating, and expensive.

i had suggested that a person choose to go somewhere (cambodia,or any other place), and spend what time and money they might have left in order to help those amongst whom they chose to live.

a person will die anyway, so why not make the end of life experience beneficial?

Tola said...

edit to previous:

my new web site is, previously i had misspelled the link.

Diana Saw said...

Hi Tola, or is it Richard? Thanks for that. I've no problems with euthanasia, and would choose it myself if it came to that. By strange I mean kooky. Hope you're well in Chiangmai. Kind regards, Diana

Unknown said...

I would also like to suggest that as many Japanese people have very high reading skills in English that any articles (or works of fiction which I appreciate this is) dealing with suicide in Japan could usefully provide contact details for hotlines and support services for people who are depressed and feeling suicidal.

Useful telephone numbers and links for Japanese residents of Japan who speak Japanese and are feeling depressed or suicidal:
Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):

Japan: 0120-738-556
Tokyo: 3264 4343

Tokyo Counseling Services:


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