How a sensitive approach can help prevent youth suicide
Paul Yip says everyone in society has a role to play in preventing suicide, by choosing our words carefully, showing empathy and being alert to those around us, while also not neglecting our own mental well-being
The government announced this week that it is setting up a task force to monitor efforts to prevent student suicides in Hong Kong. This is welcome news.
Though the number of suicides worldwide has fallen over the past decade, from around 1 million a year to 840,000, youth suicides are on the rise. This is mirrored in Hong Kong, where, while the overall suicide rate has dropped (from 18.8 per 100,000 people in 2003 to an estimated 12.6 per 100,000 people in 2016), the rate for those aged 15 to 24 has increased from 7.1 per 100,000 people in 2005 to an estimated 8.9 per 100,000 people in 2016.
So, we need effective preventive measures.
Education reform is vital to enhance the well-being of our children, but that alone won’t help lower the suicide rate. Our young people need to develop a positive attitude when facing problems and cultivate a stronger social support system.
The government has begun to implement the recommendations contained in a report submitted last November by the Committee on the Prevention of Student Suicides. For example, it has given schools more resources to promote mental health, and increased funding for related research.
The Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention is also keeping busy. According to research and the latest report of the Child Fatality Review Panel, a majority of students who died by suicide had expressed suicidal thoughts. The centre is working on an early warning system to enhance social awareness of the mental health of our youth. It has also launched a WeCare project to provide information to the public on the risk factors associated with youth suicide.
When a student dies by suicide, it is not only the family that is affected, but also teachers and other students at school; more than one individual life is on the line.
We are confident that student suicides can be reduced if preventive measures are comprehensive and integrated. Vulnerable youth should be better supported, especially amid more challenging family environments.
Suicide prevention is not merely the responsibility of schools and parents, or the government and media, but everyone in society. We can all play a part by choosing our words wisely, showing empathy, and being alert to those around us, as well as taking care of our own mental health.
The issue deserves our utmost attention, but we should approach it sensitively because of the far-reaching effect and number of lives involved. Maintaining a low profile and keeping calm is neither cold nor lacking in emotion.
Paul Yip is director of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong