Family deaths highlight tragedy of suicide

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 September, 2008, 12:00am

The businessman and his wife who appear to have taken their lives and that of their two-year-old son in their luxury New Territories villa were doubtless too preoccupied with their troubles to realise the irony of their decision. We report the tragedy on World Suicide Prevention Day. Their deaths have raised the profile of an occasion which, despite its importance in highlighting awareness of an issue particularly relevant to Hong Kong, would otherwise have passed relatively unnoticed.

Hong Kong is a suicide-friendly city. Stressful living, high parental expectations, out-of-control gambling and failed business deals -coupled with tall buildings - can easily turn thoughts from the healthy to suicidal. About 1,000 people took their lives last year. Countless others were convinced to change their minds by relatives and friends or counsellors working for suicide prevention services.

It takes an unusually tragic situation to make us pay attention. Such was the case last October when a Tin Shui Wai mother tied up her two children and threw them from their housing estate building before jumping herself. The circumstances drove authorities to improve social services and employment opportunities in what had become a forgotten part of the city. Other suicides receive scant media attention. The murder-suicide near Fanling yesterday is no less tragic but, coupled with World Suicide Prevention Day, it has raised the pitch of voices to save lives. Each suicide could have been prevented. The immediate cry is for more social workers and while there can never be enough people dedicated to helping others, it is not in itself a solution. That most immediately lies in education.

Groups such as the Samaritans and Hok Yau Club are doing an admirable job of increasing awareness, and we should listen to their messages more closely than ever today. They will tell us of the signs to watch for in those with suicidal tendencies. Lives can be saved if those clues can be recognised early and sources of stress promptly dealt with. Doing so is in all our interests - suicides take valuable lives. They emotionally scar relatives, friends and colleagues for years. Everyone loses.