The incidence of emotional problems among students in Hong Kong is 'alarming', with nearly half of senior secondary school students experiencing stress, a study has found. A significant number of students say health and emotional problems have affected their social life, but most seek help from friends and classmates rather than social workers. The survey, carried out by the Chinese University's department of community and family medicine in March, questioned 3,764 students from seven primary and secondary schools in Tai Po. A total of 42.4 per cent of students graded between Form Four and Form Six complained of stress, while 29.5 per cent of Form One to Form Three pupils and 18 per cent of primary school students said they had suffered from the same problem. Fifteen per cent of senior high school students said health and emotional problems had interfered with their social life, as did 10.7 per cent of junior secondary school students and 8.2 per cent of primary school students. Professor Albert Lee, who carried out the research, described the findings as alarming. He feared students could develop serious mood disorders or even consider suicide if they did not receive proper guidance in time. The researcher said children in Hong Kong were faced with a number of problems in life that might be neglected by parents. The study found school-work and family problems were the major source of stress among students. But 7.2 per cent of primary school children said their stress was related to love affairs, and 12.2 per cent of students graded between Form One and Form Three and 18.3 per cent of students from Form Four to Form Six said they were troubled by the same problem. Nearly nine per cent of primary school children said their stress was related to their physical appearance - compared to 17.7 per cent of students from Form One to Form Three, and 15 per from Form Four to Form Six. But less than eight per cent of both primary and secondary school students would seek help from social workers, and no more than 30 per cent resorted to their teachers. The survey found students became more reluctant to seek help from their parents as they grew older. A total of 81.7 per cent of primary school children would resort to their parents, but only 46.8 per cent of secondary school students in senior grades would do the same. However, nearly half of primary school children and more than 60 per cent of secondary school students said they would resort to classmates and friends when they had problems. Professor Lee warned that classmates and friends of the same age might not be able to help them. A survey of 26,122 students carried out by the Chinese University in 1999 found six per cent of students had made plans to commit suicide and 3.5 per cent had attempted it by different means such as self-inflicted injury and drug overdoses. Professor Lee said although the suicide rate in young people was not high compared to that in overseas countries, parents, schools, the community and professionals should be on the alert to help children at risk before tragedies occurred. Paul Yip Siu-fai, senior lecturer of the department of statistics and actuarial science at the University of Hong Kong, said the suicide rate in Hong Kong among people aged between 15 and 24 was eight per 100,000 of population - about half the rate in nations such as Australia and the US. The Census and Statistics Department recorded 14 suicides by people under 20 last year. The Education Department says it is aware of the risk of mood problems in school children and plans to invite people from different professions to hold seminars for teachers on stress management next year.