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Youth suicide in Hong Kong

Multi-pronged approach needed to tackle student suicides

Recommendations by an expert panel are a start, but academic pressure and the role of families should not be underplayed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 November, 2016, 12:45am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 November, 2016, 12:45am

Life is so precious a gift that it has to be wondered why some would choose to end theirs. Sadly, suicide remains a wrenching issue the world over. Adding to the concerns in our city is the fact that 20 students killed themselves in the first half of the last academic year. After months of in-depth study, an expert panel has tabled dozens of measures to tackle the problems. It is important that the recommendations be taken seriously by all stakeholders.

The problems identified by the Committee on Prevention of Student Suicides seem obvious. They include mental health, negative attitudes and family pressure. While stress from studies is also to blame, the committee said it did not find a direct causal relationship between suicides and the education system. It nonetheless called for a review of the system.

Hong Kong education system not to blame for student suicides, say government advisers

Suicide involves complex socio-psychological issues. While it may be too simplistic to blame the education system, it cannot be ruled out that academic pressure has contributed to the phenomenon. It would be wrong if officials played down the significance of this in order to excuse themselves of responsibility. Our exam-oriented education system is notoriously stressful. Even though a direct link has yet to be established, it makes sense to reduce the stress on students by reforming the system.

The suggestion by a teachers’ group to improve the teacher-to-student ratio is one way to help monitor the well-being of pupils. But it only works when it comes with enhanced training and counselling for teachers and social workers in schools. Adequate resources must be provided.

Another pivotal line of defence is the family. After all, no one plays a more important role than parents when it comes to supervision. The committee is right to highlight the gatekeeping role of parents and to call for more training on this front.

The report has laid a good foundation to address student suicide. However, the issues involved are so complex that the concerted efforts of all stakeholders are needed lest more tragedies occur.