We can all help with suicide prevention

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 July, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 July, 1999, 12:00am

The article headlined, 'Suicides reflect social turmoil' (South China Morning Post July 21), reminds us of the spate of suicides in Hong Kong.

Predominating local newspaper headlines are morbid news reports of acts of suicide.

Often such reports are given front-page coverage in the Chinese press.

An unemployed man jumped to his death, carrying his daughter; a family of five died in a gas-filled room, the father seeking to escape torture by loansharks; a 14-year-old drugged himself after he and his girlfriend split up, and a young man facing a charge of murder hanged himself.

Many other heart-rending stories appear day after day.

These tragic incidents have their complex financial, social and emotional causes.

According to the article, many Japanese people commit suicide out of shame and stress of being laid-off, or because they fear they will be laid-off.

With our prevailing economic downturn, Hong Kong can expect the problem to get worse in the coming months.

Ordinary citizens probably feel they are powerless to do anything to stop this brutal ending of precious lives.

But is there really nothing we can do? Local Samaritans groups have found that potential suicide victims fall prey to feelings of inferiority, isolation, depression and expendability, which are often transient states of mind.

Young people, exposed to new experiences and conflicting demands in life, often find that they cannot cope; and when there is no one who cares or can help them to cope with the abyss of despair, they impulsively take the fatal step to end their troubles.

Studies have shown that suicide is not a chosen path. It happens when pain exceeds the resources for coping with pain.

Some rescued suicide victims, who regretted their near brush with death, expressed gratitude for the last minute call back to life.

Thus, a helping hand, an understanding listener, a timely-thrown lifebuoy can work miracles, pulling someone back from the point of no return.

The efforts made by the Japanese people and the police in the Aokigahara woods beneath Mount Fuji, where they display messages imploring those contemplating suicide to think twice, offer us an example to follow.

At a time of frequent dismissals, managers could be more sympathetic to the needs of their displaced workers.

Teachers and school social workers should be more alert in detecting declining school performance and wayward behaviour of students at risk.

People should be made more aware of the signs of depression and the indications that a despondent family member may be about to attempt suicide.

Most importantly, this kind of awareness has to be promoted through public education, as well as through more publicity for the support services network including social security schemes, the fight against triads, family and youth counselling services, and family life education.

Not everyone of us is trained to save life. But life can be saved by understanding and support.

By paying attention to the people around us, we can all be contributing members of an anti-suicide squad in a caring community.