Inquiry call over youth suicide rate

COMMUNITY leaders yesterday called for an in-depth urgent investigation into possible hidden causes of the disturbing trend of youth suicides after a survey revealed that one-third of students have at one stage contemplated taking their lives.

The General Secretary of leading youth magazine Breakthrough, Dr Philemon Choi Yuen-wan, said the Commission of Youth should supervise an inquiry into family backgrounds, mental health and other related information on young suicide victims in order to gain a full picture of the situation.

He suggested the investigation should be done by experts who understood youth problems.

Speaking after a forum on youth suicide, Dr Choi claimed there was insufficient information on the problem and said this was because of the administration's policy of not releasing details on the background to youth suicides.

Latest information from the Education Department shows that the number of suicides among youths of 10 to 19 years in the last six years followed a rising trend - 12 cases in 1987, 19 (1988), 16 (1989), 20 (1990), 19 (1991) and 25 (1992).

The survey, conducted by the youth magazine, involved interviews with more than 500 students aged between 11 and 21 in 19 secondary schools. It found that 35 per cent of them had thought about ending their lives, 7.7 per cent had attempted suicide while some had tried more than once.

Dr Choi, who acts as a psychological counsellor with the publication, said: ''We are shocked to see these results.'' The study, believed to be one of the most comprehensive, was completed late last year.

Dr Choi claimed the situation could be worse if other avenues to take one's life were available in Hongkong.

''Since firearms and drugs are not as easily available in Hongkong as they are in the United States, the number of suicides therefore is not as high,'' he said.

''If we do not deal with this problem properly, I think the suicide rate will continue to surge and will be comparable with those in Japan and the United States.'' Dr Choi said overseas investigations showed that some youngsters who committed suicide had mental problems and were close to a nervous breakdown.

Some were either sexually or physically abused by their families or came from families with alcohol problems.

He expected the media to be self-disciplined in reporting such stories, and said schools could run media-awareness courses and social workers could also use the mass media to send their message directly.

Another speaker at the forum, Mr Cheung Man-kwong, legislator for the teaching profession, echoed Dr Choi's views and also urged the Government to set up a working group to combat the problem.

He hoped the new body could be composed of members from the Education Department, Social Welfare Department and related youth organisations.

''The Government should give financial support to this group and reinforce suggestions proposed by it,'' he said.