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Suicides in Hong Kong

Review into spate of suicides in Hong Kong should be expedited

The number of young people who have taken their own lives over the past six months should, and has, rung alarm bells. A concerted effort is needed to reduce the number of deaths

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 March, 2016, 12:42am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 March, 2016, 12:05pm

Having 22 young people take their own lives in half a year should ring alarm bells in any society, even more so when the last four cases happened within five days. Such concerns have been reflected lately in the heated debate in both social and mass media. While there has been concern that insensitive media coverage of suicides may lead to copycat actions, it does not mean nothing should be done. Addressing the underlying issues in an open and informed manner is a good way to start.

To put suicide into perspective, Hong Kong’s rate has been improving over the years. Officially, there were more than 800 suicides in 2014, representing a rate of 11 per 100,000 people, slightly below the world average of 13. The rate is also a significant drop from the peak of 18.8 in 2003.

That there were two to three suicides each day may not mean much in a city so used to social dramas and tragedies. Nonetheless, the thought of young people taking their own lives is shocking.

There is no single explanation as to why people commit suicide. According to Samaritan Befrienders, many factors could be involved. These include academic pressure, family issues and mood disorders. Students’ ability to cope with adversity also appears to be on the decline.

Also worthy of attention is a decrease by those aged under 20 in seeking help from the organisation, down from some 20 per cent in 1995 to only 4 per cent last year. With young people being more inclined to express emotions online nowadays, there is a danger that professional help cannot be provided in time.

It takes concerted efforts in society to prevent suicides. Belated as they are, the five measures announced by the education minister, including raising awareness among parents and schools and appointing a committee to explore the issue, are positive steps forward. The review should be expedited lest more tragedies occur.