The number of people attempting suicide by jumping from the Cambodian-Japanese Friendship Bridge in Phnom Penh has reached 30 so far this year, resulting in five deaths, and bringing the total number of those who have leapt from the bridge since 2006 to at least 90, officials said.
The body of a 19-year-old woman was found on Sunday after she jumped from the bridge into the Tonle Sap river late on Saturday evening. Of the five people who have died this year, three were women and two were men, said a police officer stationed on the bridge ,who declined to be named.
Based on stories of those who survive their suicide attempts, most reveal that love or family were the main reasons, the officer said.
In most cases, police on the bridge have spotted the jumper before it is too late, but out of the 90 attempts registered since 2006, only 13 people have died.
“Sometimes when the police see them crying and standing next to the bridge railing, they just educate them and follow them until they go home,” said Yim Sokha, deputy police chief of Chroy Changva commune, where the bridge is located.
South of the Cambodian-Japanese Friendship Bridge at the Monivong Bridge, which spans the Bassac River, a police officer said that there had been only one attempted suicide this year, which was unsuccessful.
The Monivong Bridge is not high enough to be lethal, the officer added.
“Mostly people like to go to the Japanese bridge because of the distance from the water surface to the bridge,” he said, adding that police now have three motorboats on standby at both bridges, which are used to rescue jumpers.
“[When] we see them, we never use bad words with them but console and explain to them how life is important and how hard their parents [work] to feed them,” added the officer, who also declined to be named.
Sariv Ma, 58, a fisherman who works near the Japanese bridge, said he sometimes helps families or the police retrieve the bodies of those who have died, and he estimated that he had helped pull almost 100 bodies out of the water during a ten-year period. He also said that he had rescued almost an equal number of people from the river, adding that people had not always jumped into the river of their own volition.
“Sometimes I saw the people jump from the bridge with my own eyes while I was fishing…. The people just come and ask me to swim around and look for their kids or relatives. I cannot say no since it is something to do with life,” he said.
The number of people attempting suicide has gone up in the past few years, said Dr Yim So Botra, a psychiatrist at the Sunrise Mental Clinic in Phnom Penh.
In Cambodia there are an estimated 35 registered psychiatrists, he said, which is not enough to care for all those that need help. Most of the psychiatrists are also based in Phnom Penh or in other large towns, which means that most Cambodians are left without adequate mental health care, Mr So Botra said.
But another problem, he added, is that many people in Cambodia don’t understand mental problems such as depression or anxiety.
“Many people don’t understand the mentally ill,” Dr So Botra said.
“When they hear about mental illness, they think about crazy [people], not depression or anxiety,” he said, adding that people suffering from depression often end up keeping their suffering to themselves because they don’t know where to get help or don’t consider themselves in need of help.
Many people think about suicide, and some even have elaborate plans on how to take their own lives. But, in general, those who attempt suicide do so on the spur of the moment, he added.
Young adults between 20 and 30 years old are the most likely to attempt suicide, Mr So Botra said, adding that older people with stronger religious conviction may fare better in dealing with emotional adversity.
“Some older people practice religion after they have problems in [the] family or [with] their husband or wife. They are depressed too, but they are religious and they practice Buddhism.”
(Additional reporting by Cajsa Collin)