Bangkokians speak out about their mental health struggles. 

The impactful suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain earlier this year have shone an international light on mental health issues. Closer to home, Thai rockstar Sek Loso has also been hospitalized with late-stage bipolar disorder. Over recent years, the world has been waking up to the too often untalked-about topic of mental health, but is Bangkok keeping up? Do we know when and, just as importantly, where to get help? Here, Bangkokians speak out about their own mental health struggles. 
 

Lily, 28, restaurant owner


Since I was very young, I constantly wondered why I was different from others, quieter. Then I saw something on TV about depression, and that was when it started to make sense. I went to a doctor who diagnosed me with severe depression.

Saying things like, “it’ll be OK,” “I’ve got it worse,” “it happened to me, too” actually doesn’t help. It is not a competition. It doesn’t make me feel better knowing it also happened to you. Telling people with depression, “don’t think about it,” “don’t stress over it,” is like you telling people with cancer, “stop having cancer.”

Thai society doesn’t take this issue seriously because people can’t see it physically. Those with brains that function normally always compare us to themselves and think we are just incredibly weak or overreacting.

I wish people would understand that, and I quote Chester Bennington [Linkin Park’s late lead singer], “just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.” We are not overreacting. More than suggestions or advice, we need understanding.
 

Suchart, 28, English teacher


I kept hearing weird noises whispering in my ears, telling me that I would be better off dead. It was as if I had developed another persona.

I did seek help from my family, before I attempted my first suicide, but no one believed me. My friends started avoiding me when I talked about this topic. One of them told me that if I were sad all the time, I would make other people sad, too. He said I should just get over it as everyone’s got their own issues.

I wasn’t the one who decided to talk to a professional. After I overdosed myself, my mom found my body on the floor and took me to the hospital. After that, they sent me to a mental health clinic.
I think most people who have mental issues don’t want any special treatment from others. When people do that, it is a constant reminder of us being abnormal—that stigma makes us feel more uncomfortable than anything could.

It’s not going to be easy, I won’t lie to you. Appreciate every small step that you make. No one can help you if you don’t open yourself up to them first.
 

Chompuu, 21, student


One time when I was very stressed, I was so busy with my studies and away from my mother, I had a panic attack. I made a cut on my wrist to make the panic attack stop. That was when I realized I had a problem.

When I told my mother, she didn’t speak to me for two days straight. She was probably angry and didn’t know how to handle it, but eventually she took me to see a doctor. 

I had wanted to see a doctor for so long but it would cost a lot of money. Then finally when I did go, I was already at a very bad stage. Medication and medical help can only help up to a certain level.
I did mention to my mom briefly before that I may have a problem, but she just said, “it will go away.” As mental health isn’t something that people can physically see, people don’t take it seriously; they often see depression as just a sadness that will go away by itself.

I don’t like it when people tell me that I just overthink things or how they don’t take it seriously when I’m just trying to heal. 
 
 

Patty, 28, health coach and nutritionist

 

I never thought of it as me having a certain issue, not even when I was a teenager and I started seeing a therapist for the first time.

It took me a couple of years before I sought professional help, and I didn’t confide in my family until about 10 years into therapy—they were very understanding though.

Some of my friends gave me a hard time about it, or didn’t believe me.

Thai society was not rooted in science, emotional health and neuroscience to begin with. A lot of our background stems from superstition and an obsession with saving face, too. I don’t think the combination of the two makes a good pathway to understanding human psychology and mental health.

I never had any conversations about mental health when I was young and never received any hotlines for help.

I want everyone to know that mental health is so insanely normal.

 


Expert Advice


Asara Vasupanrajit, a clinical psychologist at Siriraj Hospital with nine years’ experience


Does Bangkok’s medical culture take mental health issues as seriously as the rest of the world?


People everywhere pay more attention to their mental health these days, including in Thailand. We care more about how to look after ourselves mentally, to support our inner well-being and happiness. However, that doesn’t mean people understand mental health properly yet.


Is any particular social group most at risk of mental health issues?


Research from the Department of Mental Health Thailand in 2010 shows that people in Bangkok aged 15-24 have the highest risk of having mental health issues, especially males.


How aware are Thai people when it comes to mental health?


There’s a good amount of people that pay attention to this. We have mental health awareness week in November each year, which helps Thai people to understand that mental health doesn’t equate to the “crazy person” they see on TV soaps.


What could make people in Bangkok more aware of mental health issues?


I personally think awareness is not as big a concern as the ability to access good quality treatment. Thai people have increasingly been using the Internet to learn about mental health but despite having this information on hand there is still a lack of proper treatment. The treatment for mental health is actually covered by Thai social security, so if you ever feel like there’s something off, you can go and speak to the doctor straight away. Please always remember that the things you read on the Internet are not the same as a diagnosis. It’s important that you let a professional diagnose your well-being.


What’s the one thing that you would advise never to do or say to someone with mental health problems?


Don’t be quick to judge another person’s difficulties based on your own point of view. Everyone looks at the world differently and it’s impossible to try to make someone look at the world from your own eyes. Therefore, saying things like, “don’t stress,” “don’t think too much,” or “other people have it harder than you” should be totally forbidden. Friends and family should remember there’s no right or wrong when it comes to how they feel. Keep an open mind. If you notice a friend or a family member acting differently for longer than two weeks, you might want to talk to them about seeing a professional.
 

Get Help

These mental health organizations are there for you
 
The Cabin Bangkok 
Specializing in mental health issues and drug addiction, the Cabin Bangkok offers professional and practical consultations. As part of the Cabin Addiction Service Group, they have several outlets around the world.
www.thecabinbangkok.co.th  

Social Security 
If the hospital associated with your Thai social security has a psychology unit, you can get treatment for free.

p2h Foundation
P2h’s mission is to generate equal access to healthcare across all of society, for both physical and mental health.
www.path2health.or.th 

The Center for Psychological Wellness, CU 
Founded by the Faculty of Psychology at Chulalongkorn University, this center offers mental health counselling for both groups and individuals.
www.fb.com/WellnessPsyCU  

Helpline 1323 
Run by the Department of Mental Health at the Ministry of Public Health, this helpline provides 24-hour support to those suffering from mental health issues.
www.fb.com/helpline1323 

Khun Foundation 
Khun Foundation is devoted to promoting awareness of current social issues, including mental wellness.
www.fb.com/khunfoundation