HEAVY debts to loansharks and credit card companies are driving more people to contemplate suicide, says a new report. The number of callers to Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong because of financial problems almost doubled to 231 last year, from 118 in 1995. It represents a steady rise from 95 cases in 1994. About half the callers were over 35. Many also faced marital problems and family disputes. Social workers said the rise should signal a warning to the Government about prolonged problems with the economy and loopholes in welfare policy. Of the 231 cases, 57 were heavily in debt to loansharks or credit card companies and 31 were unemployed. Many were feeling stressed over low income and insufficient social security payments, and some were too ashamed to apply for social security. Samaritans vice-chairman Joyce Chow Yuen-fun said callers were advised to look for retraining opportunities. Director of the Society for Community Organisation, Ho Hei-wah, said he was not surprised by the rise. 'The question is whether the Government is also aware of it,' Mr Ho said. 'The trend projects the feeling of insecurity of many people. It's not that they are starving, but that the financial pressure from high-priced housing and insecure employment has proved too much for them.' The Samaritans Befrienders handled 4,187 cases last year, 2,399 of them new cases, representing a 14.9 per cent caseload growth. More than 57 per cent were female clients. It reported that 6.4 per cent of the new clients were severely distressed, including 22 who tried to commit suicide and 131 who planned to. Compared to 1995, an extra 32 clients planned to commit suicide - the biggest increase in four years. Major complaints concerned romance (23.9 per cent), family disputes (18.4 per cent), jobs (14.9 per cent) and marital problems (13.5 per cent). Family disputes rose 35.6 per cent, marital problems by 33.3 per cent and job-related anxiety by 7.5 per cent.