Open discussion about suicide can save lives

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 February, 2014, 5:07am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 February, 2014, 5:07am

Suicide is a topic on the periphery of conversation, often confined to whispers due to the complexity of emotions associated with it. When it does surface in open discussion, the circumstances are exceptional, as last Tuesday when an investment banker with JPMorgan jumped from the roof of Chater House in Central. Hearing only of instances involving people from well-known companies or with high profiles may give the impression that few take their own lives and that only those from particular demographics get suicidal thoughts. The reality is far different, though; the numbers in our city are not inconsequential, nor do the underlying reasons discriminate.

The stigma around suicide makes it one of the issues deemed taboo in society and about which it is difficult to talk. Feelings of shock, guilt, shame, denial and anger are common for the relatives and friends of victims. Many people also perceive suicide as a matter of choice; that those who decide to take their own lives have done so only after reasonably choosing from among alternatives. A consequence is that suicide is little understood, shrouded in secrecy and infrequently discussed.

Yet the prevalence is such in Hong Kong that we should be openly talking about it so as to afford greater care to those with mental illnesses. Every day, an average of at least two people commit suicide; in some years past, that number has been three or more. Many are aged between 15 and 24, years of particular vulnerability, but some are even younger. High-rise living makes it easier to act on suicidal thoughts.

High expectations and demands create pressure and stress at school and work and in life in general. Our city lacks adequate mental health services, and a government committee was set up last May to review their provision. More needs to be done to improve access to these services, support sufferers and their families, educate people and reduce stigma. Keeping discussion of suicide in the open will improve understanding and help save lives.