Every person is a complex story. There is no easy way of determining with any certainty the reasons why an individual chooses to commit suicide. It is therefore disappointing that some groups have hastily concluded that education reforms are to blame for the tragic deaths of two teachers last week. Certainly, the reforms are putting pressure on teachers. But it is presumptuous to assert that this was the main cause of the deaths of Yu Kei-cheong, 42, and Lam Hang-hong, 54, or other teachers who have taken their own lives. Yu was a mathematics teacher renowned for his interactive teaching methods. He recently compiled stories used in his lessons into a book, which was so popular that a sequel was in the pipeline. There was apparently no sign of him feeling depressed. Lam was a vice-principal of a secondary school where he had worked for 26 years. He was said to have complained to his wife about pressure at work, but the principal of his school revealed he had also been wrought by bad health. These reconstructions of the two teachers' pasts are far from complete and cannot reasonably be used to conclude that both had killed themselves to escape the drudgery of work. The most one could say is that work pressure could be a contributing factor. So Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun had a point when she made controversial comments on the subject this week. Some of her remarks were expressed insensitively and upset teachers. Ms Law has, rightly, apologised. But she had good reason to question the alleged link between reforms and suicides. The unions, however, are on stronger ground when they complain that the workload of teachers is high, and the avalanche of reforms launched since the handover has added to their burden. Aimed at overhauling the school system to meet the needs of the 21st century, the reforms have made new demands. For example, schools are now subject to quality assurance inspections and teachers are required to undergo mandatory continuing education. For English and Putonghua teachers, their jobs could be at risk if they fail to pass prescribed benchmark tests by next year. Curriculum and assessment reforms are also compelling teachers to adopt new practices. Each of these reforms has its merits. Implemented at the same time, however, they have strained the capability of the teaching force to cope with change. For schools in districts with shrinking numbers of children, the threat of closure has driven principals and staff to take the reforms even more seriously. Despite the heavy pressure they face, however, there is no evidence to back up the claim that teachers are more likely to commit suicide. Experts from the University of Hong Kong's suicide research centre estimate the suicide rate of teachers at four per 100,000, which is lower than both the average rate and that for professionals generally. They agree that work pressure has increased for professionals in recent years, but have cautioned against attributing suicides among teachers and doctors to education and medical reforms. Indeed, the more worrying trends they have identified are rising suicide rates for Hong Kong as a whole. Between 1981 and 2001, our suicide rate rose from 9.6 to 15 per 100,000. Their advice is for the community to pay serious attention to mental health as a means of preventing the loss of valuable lives from suicide. There is an urgent need for Hong Kong to rectify the erroneous concept of regarding a good employee as one who spends long hours at work. Instead, workers should be given ample time to rest, and their understanding of depression as an illness enhanced. Concerted efforts should be made to help reduce teachers' workload and help them embrace change. Educators would be teaching a poor lesson to students if they exploited the deaths of Yu and Lam in a bid to force the government to abort the education reforms.