YouTube stars aim to tackle youth suicides in Hong Kong

Number of suicides in first eight months of 2016 already surpasses the whole of 2015, with concern groups hoping popular peers can get message across to young people to seek help

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 11:25pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 September, 2016, 1:31am

Hong Kong is recruiting the help of its YouTube stars to prevent young people from killing themselves after the age group’s suicide rate climbed from 6.2 per 100,000 people in 2014 to 8.5 last year.

The rate, described as worrying by experts, is ­expected to rise further this year, as 26 suicide cases involving students aged 15 to 24 were recorded in the first eight months, surpassing the total of 23 such cases for the whole of last year.

The wave of suicides in March to April this year could be linked to sensational media reporting which led to copycat suicides, the experts said.

The plan now is to reach out to the popular peers that young people look up to or identify with to spread the anti-suicide message.

“No one would actually look at government’s ­Announcement of Public Interest. We hope to contact young people with needs on the internet and spread positive messages to them,” said Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, director of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention.

Yip, who also heads the committee on prevention of student suicides, said the final report on how to tackle the problem would be submitted to the government late next month, highlighting the use of social media to identify and help those at risk.

“Trends for different age groups might drop or remain the same, but there is a rise among youngsters aged 15 to 24 ,” Yip said.

The suicide rate among those males aged 15 to 24 was much higher, rising from of 8.3 to 12.9 last year, despite the suicide rate for all ages in the city – 12.6 this year – reflecting a downward trend since 2003.

Yip said weaker family support nowadays could be blamed for the higher numbers among young people. Half of the 34 student suicides between September 2013 and April this year were linked to family problems, such as parents divorcing or single-

parenting issues. Boys were less likely than girls to share problems with the others and seek help.

Analysis of suicide notes left by the 34 students identified poor relationships to be one of the factors.

“Students often said ‘sorry’ to their loved ones in the suicide notes,” Yip said. “Why would our youngsters say sorry only right before they departed?”

The suicide prevention centre is partnering with six popular local YouTube personalities to help identify young people at risk.

Jason, who produces video clips featuring games and interesting inventions and has over 440,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, is one of those who will join a workshop today to learn how to help youngsters sharing their troubled thoughts online.

“The power of internet is you don’t have to use your real face or name to share, and you won’t feel embarrassed after sharing. That’s why many people can easily share their worries with me,” he said. Jason has had his own depression problems and even contemplated suicide in 2010.

Apart from learning how to communicate with young people, the YouTube gurus will be taught to refer risky cases to professional counsellors.