World suicide prevention day: put resources into engaging with vulnerable youth

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 September, 2015, 1:31am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 September, 2015, 8:59am

World Suicide Prevention Day today is a reminder that over 800,000 people take their own lives every year, more than deaths arising from war and murder. The most we can hope for is that the rate per 100,000 of the population will fall as a result of more effective strategies to engage with potentially suicidal people. In this respect Hong Kong has some positive things to report.

The city's suicide rate was about 12.3 per 100,000 people last year. But adjusted to make it internationally comparable with the World Health Organisation's age-standardised rate of 11.4, Hong Kong's rate was 8.6, marking an encouraging downward trend since a peak of 18.8 in 2003. Writing on the opposite page, Paul Yip, director of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong, said this is proof that knowledge accumulated from evidence-based research helps the effectiveness of strategies. Young people remain a challenge, however, with five below 15 having committed suicide last year, more than in 2012 and 2013. Investigation revealed that all were suffering emotional distress but their suicidal thoughts either were not expressed or went unnoticed.

In this regard, online platforms are proving a valuable aid in overcoming miscommunication and feelings of disconnection among young people. The suicide prevention centre has found that 30 per cent of people aged 12 to 29 have experienced emotional distress in the past four weeks. Of the 28 per cent who did not seek help, seven in 10 had expressed their distress on social media and other electronic platforms. As a result, youth groups and outreach services have begun to engage online with vulnerable youth. This is no substitute for effective policies to improve the lives of disadvantaged people, given research showing a link between higher suicide rates and socio-economically deprived areas of Hong Kong. As a start the government should consider mobilising more resources at a district level to bring hope to young people.