Government, schools need to do more to stop youth suicides, say experts

Government urged to be more active as social stigma proves stumbling block to reducing number of young people taking their own lives

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 March, 2014, 4:28am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 March, 2014, 4:52am

Ingrained resistance to discussing mental health problems and suicide in Hong Kong is proving to be an obstacle to bringing down the rising rate of young people killing themselves, suicide prevention workers say.

The city's youth suicide rate rose by 19 per cent between 2010 and 2012. In 2010, it was 7 in every 100,000 youths, but the number rose to 8.3 in 2012.

Meanwhile, the overall suicide rate dropped 8 per cent - from 13.8 in 2010 to 12.7 in 2012, according to the University of Hong Kong's Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention.

"Every week, two to three young people take their lives in Hong Kong," said Dr Paul Wong Wai-ching, a fellow at the centre.

The Samaritans, one of the city's three charities dedicated to suicide prevention, said schools needed to do a better job of educating young people on depression, self harm and suicide.

"We've received an increasing number of calls and e-mails from teenagers," Deborah Crouch, director of the charity, said, adding that Hong Kong lagged behind other parts of the developed world in its awareness of the issue.

Youth suicide, which is "contagious, impulsive and affected by complex causes", can be prevented as almost half of those thinking of it tell others - usually their friends - about their intent, Wong said.

But Carmen Ng, project leader of the Samaritans' youth outreach programme, said there was still "a certain stigma" on suicide in Hong Kong. "Some schools welcome us but … are concerned about reputation," she said. "They think, 'If I have a programme on suicide prevention, does that mean we have such problems?'"

A total of 189 pupils from 47 local schools have taken part in the Young Samaritans Peer Support Programme, which started in 2010. The participants, many of whom had been affected by self harm or suicidal thoughts, attended workshops and training camps that taught them to handle stress and suicidal thoughts. They were then asked to hold assemblies to share their knowledge in their schools.

In 2009, Hong Kong's suicide rate in women aged 15 to 24 years was three times higher than Britain's, while the figure for men in the same age group was more than 30 per cent higher, according to research published in medical journal The Lancet.

Wong said there had to be a more concerted effort by the government to prevent suicides.

The British government set a target in 2000 to cut the suicide rate by 20 per cent in 10 to 15 years, while Korea and Japan, the two countries with the region's highest suicide rates, also had similar initiatives.

"But we don't have anything in Hong Kong," Wong said.