Farmer suicides: debt ‘not sole cause’

A recent spate of farmer suicides was not solely caused by delayed pledged rice scheme payments, the Department of Mental Health (DMH) says.

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The DMH said some victims were known to have had previous mental health and debt problems.

“We can’t completely blame the rice-pledging scheme for the farmer suicides,” DMH deputy director-general Panpimol Wipulakorn said. “The scheme may have partly motivated the suicides, but along with other factors.”

Dr Panpimol’s department sent a team of psychologists to talk with the families of the deceased. The team found that some of the farmers who committed suicide had other financial problems unrelated to the rice scheme prior to their deaths.

Seven of the nine farmers who have committed suicide this year hanged themselves, while two drank insecticide.

Rice farmers protesting in front of the Commerce Ministry told the Bangkok Post the delay in receiving their pledging payments made them miss repayments on their own debts. Many then had to borrow money from loan sharks at high interest rates to meet their payments. They said they had been suffering with stress since the pledging payments came to a halt.

Asked why most suicidal farmers chose to hang themselves, Dr Panpimol said this could be imitation behaviour after hearing repeated reports of other farmers killing themselves this way.

She said when news of suicide by certain methods are reported, other mentally stressed people sometimes follow suit.

“When similar suicides are reported often over a period of time, it can suggest to others how they might be able to kill themselves,” she said.

Provincial DMH teams have been working with local health volunteers to survey farmers in several provinces. If any farmers are found at risk of high stress, the team will offer consultation and advice.

Some DMH psychologists were also sent to the Commerce Ministry to advise farmers protesting there on how to keep in good mental health. The department has surveyed 60 farmers who joined the protest at the ministry.

It is found that 3% were under stress at a level that needed close monitoring.

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