10pc of Hongkongers have had suicidal thoughts in the past fortnight, survey finds

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 11:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2013, 7:51am

Nearly one in ten Hongkongers have contemplated suicide and a similar number admit they are depressed, a mental health survey has found.

The survey, released on Monday and first published in the Ta Kung Pao newspaper, found that 8.2 per cent of respondents had developed suicidal thoughts within a single two-week period.

Starting in November, the Mental Health Association of Hong Kong (MHAHK) polled 3,269 residents above the age of 18. 

The key for Hong Kong in keeping the suicide rate low is to improve mental well-being

Eight per cent of the respondents acknowledged they suffered depression, which the World Health Organisation predicts will be the second leading cause of global burden of disease by 2020. Four per cent who had depression also needed professional counselling and therapy. 

Ching Chi-kong, assistant director at the MHAHK, urged Hongkongers to pay more attention to mental health, learn ways to manage stress and develop “positive thinking” to mediate negative emotions that trigger depression.

Ching said the government was not investing enough in educating the public about, and promoting, good mental health. He suggested incorporating mental health education into secondary school curriculums.

Hong Kong's suicide rate has levelled in the last few years, according to the latest figures, but experts still fear a possible rise this year if the city does not directly address issues of mental well-being.

Last month, a 47-year-old woman, who reportedly had a history of mental illness, hanged herself after strangling her 10-year-old son to death in their Taikoo Shing apartment.

“The key for Hong Kong in keeping the suicide rate low is to improve mental well-being,” said Paul Yip Siu-fai, a University of Hong Kong social work professor and the director of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention (CSRP).

“Depending on how the economic situation fares in Hong Kong this year, a bad year for unemployment for instance, may raise the suicide numbers,” Yip said.

But in overworked Hong Kong, even those who have a job could be at risk. CSRP research has linked issues such as self-perceived job insecurity with psychiatric problems, both of which are factors associated with a higher risk of suicide.

From 2002 to 2010, about 30 per cent of suicides were employed people. Of this figure, 41 per cent had known psychiatric problems.

Overall, however, CSRP's latest statistics report a drop in Hong Kong’s suicide rate, from a record 18.6 cases per 100,000 in 2003 to its current level of 13.6. This still equates to roughly 1,000 cases of suicide each year.

Numbers also suggest that suicide amongst the middle-aged population has fallen in recent years, but that is not the case for the elderly. 

Vincent Ng Chi-kwan, of Suicide Prevention Services (SPS), points to a slight uptick in the suicide rate amongst those 60 or above.

Ng said their issues stem from emotional problems related to health or family.

“We see a link between good health and good mental well-being amongst the elderly,” he said.

“We believe there is more the government could be doing to ensure the elderly are provided for in terms of health care and mental support,” Ng added.

Although the elderly are still a high-risk group, it appears that very few of them know or choose to seek consultation.

The log sheet of the SPS’ suicide prevention hotline, for example, showed that only 2 per cent of its callers were aged 60 and above. About 60 per cent of the callers were between the ages of 21 and 60.

“More senior citizens are living alone, and many of them face less social support. These factors have contributed to the persistently high figure… the government should be channeling more resources to these areas,” said the Yip of CSRP.

The suicide rate for senior citizens, nearly double that of other age groups, has long been high. According to figures from the CSRP, the suicide rate amongst those aged 65 or above was 29 per 100,000 in 2010.