People whose loved ones have committed suicide may receive counselling under a HK$3.75 million scheme set up to reach out to this vulnerable group that social workers say has drawn scant attention from society.
The risk to such people had been underestimated and Project Bless, launched in January, was meant to fill that gap, said Elsie Chien, deputy director of Suicide Prevention Services.
The project, funded by a donation from Lee Ka-kit, son of tycoon Lee Shau-kee, aimed to provide counselling to 270 people in three years.
'Studies show that one person who kills himself can affect six people around him,' Ms Chien said. 'With about 1,000 suicides in Hong Kong each year, chances are 6,000 people are at risk.'
For a person whose loved one has died by suicide, the risk of committing suicide can be twice as high as that for an average person. Close relatives often come under great stress but feel ashamed to share their feelings with outsiders, said Ms Chien.
They might feel abandoned and guilty for failing to prevent the suicide, she said, adding that recovery could take years or even a lifetime.
Relatives of those killed in car accidents, by comparison, were much more willing to talk about the deaths, she said.
One social worker, 30, whose brother had taken his own life by burning charcoal, said it was crucial to encourage the bereaved to share their feelings. Giving his name only as Ben, the social worker said he had felt guilty about the death and his mother took even longer to recover.
'Mum bore the brunt of the tragedy. She always remembered my brother's last words and kept repeating them,' Ben said. 'Initially, she would not talk about her feelings.'
Ben used his skills as a social worker to encourage his mother to share her sadness. After his repeated encouragement, she opened herself up and slowly recovered from the tragedy.
'Youngsters may be more willing to share such things with friends, but elderly people like my mum tend to feel [too] ashamed to talk about a family member's suicide,' he said.
There were 1,187 suicides in 2004 and 967 suicides in 2005
The number of people who committed suicide in 2006: 1,187
Source: Coroner's Court