A three-year pilot programme - including a hotline, outreach team and psychiatric clinic - will be launched this week to help tackle the high suicide rate among the elderly. Senior citizens will be able to call the 24-hour hotline to talk to counsellors about problems ranging from illness to bereavement, and more than 200 elderly volunteers will be mobilised to visit their peers in Tai Po and Sha Tin. The volunteers and social workers will form an outreach team that also will respond to emergency cases. Chinese University psychiatrists will set up a 'Life Clinic' at Prince of Wales Hospital. The suicide rate among the elderly in the SAR is one of the highest in the world. According to the Census and Statistics Department, the suicide rate among those over 60 is 25 per 100,000, almost double the rate among the general population. Last year, 264 elderly people killed themselves - one every 33 hours. The $7 million programme, funded by the Jockey Club, is jointly organised by the Social Welfare Department, the Council of Social Service and the Hong Kong Psychogeriatrics Association. Carmen Ng Ka-man, head of the elderly services division at the Council of Social Service, said the three-tier programme - hotline, outreach team and medical intervention - was the merging of professionals with community networks. 'Elderly with depression picked up by the outreach team will be assessed by social workers or clinical psychologists. Serious cases will be referred to the clinic,' she said. Professor Helen Chiu Fung-kum, Chinese University's chairwoman of psychiatry, said suicide among the elderly was a serious problem. But she said it was preventable with prompt action. The new Life Clinic would be able to provide immediate medical assistance to suicidal seniors, said Professor Chiu, adding that 'at present patients have to wait weeks for a consultation at an outpatient clinic'. She said the approach to suicide prevention had always been rather passive but now hundreds of doctors and volunteers would be trained to identify depression among the elderly and secure patients immediate appointments at the new clinic. The hotline, to be manned by the Suicide Prevention Services, will start on December 28. It will be open for all, but the outreach programme and clinic consultations initially will be limited to Tai Po and Sha Tin residents.