Study warns of dire consequences if Thai government fails to prioritise mental health of citizens
Experts are urging the Thai government to prioritise mental health in their development policies, warning that a failure to do so could lead to the rise of lonely, depressed and aggressive people, which would finally hinder the country's sustainable growth, a study published on Thursday said.
The warning was issued as part of the study titled "Future of Mental Health in Thailand 2033”, conducted by four public and private organisations: the Department of Mental Health under the Ministry of Public Health, in collaboration with the National Innovation Agency (Public Organization) (NIA), the Electronic Transactions Development Agency (ETDA) under the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research, and Innovation, and MQDC's FutureTales Lab.
The findings of the study revealed five possible mental state scenarios for Thai people in the next 10 years, ranging from the worst to the best-case scenarios, which researchers summarise as: terror outbursts, opportunity in adversity, packs of lone wolves, decentralised mental well-being, and land of smiling minds.
What the scenarios mean
Wipattra Totemchokechaikarn, a researcher at FutureTales Lab by MQDC and one of the study team members, explained “terror outburst” as the result of several neglected social issues that people have to suppress for too long until they can no longer tolerate it and decide to use violence to let out their fears, stress, or depression.
The second scenario, “opportunity in adversity”, describes a situation in which people are stressed and uncertain, but they are trying to start something new in order to change themselves for the better.
The third scenario, “pack of lone wolves”, involves people who have comfortable accommodation and technologies but still feel lonely or isolated. They may feel exhausted or burned out as a result of intense competition.
The fourth scenario, “decentralised mental well-being”, defines how people feel engaged and connected to their community. They are proud of their local life because of the absolute decentralisation of power, which allows local people to design their own lives with the utmost emphasis on physical and mental well-being.
The best-case scenario is the “Land of smiling minds”. According to Wipatra, this is what researchers expect to happen as people gain mental literacy, have equal access to health and mental well-being infrastructure, and have proactive mental health policies.
Wipatra said all scenarios can occur at the same time, but one scenario may cover a larger group than another, depending on how the country's policies are designed.
According to the researchers' action plan, the public sector should prioritise mental health and include it in the country's basic welfare. They urged the government to educate people about mental health so that they can be more self-aware.
Aside from strong mental health support and treatment, preventive mental health measures are also required.
Furthermore, the private sector and the community are required to participate to prevent any abuse of mental health.
Unfortunately, the current mental health policy is not inclusive, and mental health literacy is extremely low, causing an increasing number of Thais to live with poor quality of life, they said.
According to Amporn Benjaponpitak, director-general of the Department of Mental Health, scientific evidence demonstrates that good mental health leads to good physical health.
"People with mental health problems face severe stigma in Thai culture. Many Thais continue to be unaware of the importance of mental health for themselves, their families, and their communities, prompting them to reject mental health services," she explained.
"This situation is consistent with Thailand's growing mental health issues. Social changes contribute to a wide range of mental health issues, including stress, depression, burnout, and, in some cases, self-harm."
According to a mental health survey conducted in 2022 with 1,149,231 respondents, the risk of depression was 5.47%, burnout 4.59%, and high stress 4.37%.
To address mental health issues, people and all sectors must focus and collaborate. She warned that if society does not fully understand the future of mental health in Thailand, it would face serious mental health consequences.
Karndee Leopairote, executive vice president of MQDC's FutureTales Lab, pointed out that mental health is now the top health concern for 36% of people, surpassing cancer (34%).
According to the United Nations, 80% of its members would include mental healthcare as part of basic healthcare by 2030. In Thailand, 80.6% of city dwellers and 48.9% of rural residents suffer from mental health issues.
She said that to improve urban well-being, we must first understand and improve people's mental health to withstand events such as epidemics and economic insecurity.
"This research underscores the value of foresight from key signals and future scenarios to understand mental health and develop guidelines and policies to meet coming changes,” she said.
Moreover, as a property developer, Karndee noted that the research provides useful data to help her team design a future urban city where all people live in safety and happiness.
Developing a network
Apart from conducting research together, the four organisations — the Department of Mental Health, NIA, ETDA and FutureTales — have also signed an agreement to develop a network for innovation and mental health education to promote and develop mental healthcare in Thailand.
The department will provide useful mental health information and push for some changes in policies. The NIA aims to support the use of innovation foresight in tracking economic, social, environmental, and lifestyle trends that may affect Thai mental health.
NIA executive director Pan-Arj Chairat believes technology and innovation can be used for recreational media to help the mental healthcare system effectively to improve the health of Thais.
Meanwhile, the ETDA will proceed with promoting digital technology while adding value to the country's digital economy. Literacy must be developed to build immunity in the digital world for Thais and prevent health problems from the use of technologies.
ETDA director Chaichana Mitphan added that the study’s forecasts on the future mental health of Thais would lead to policy and directions for more efficient future care.
Karndee concluded that the collaboration aimed to improve Thais' mental health in future by presenting key issues, the current situation, indicators of change, key drivers, the outlook, and policy proposals for developing the mental healthcare system across all sectors.
The parties will also educate the public about society, technology, economics, the environment, laws, policy, and values, as well as plan for a better future for Thailand's mental healthcare.