More than sympathy needed in youth suicides
The rise in deaths among Hong Kong students shows schools are failing in their role as guardians, and greater efforts are required to tackle the problem
Suicides in Hong Kong have been such a long-standing problem that there is no need for another tragedy or study to prompt more preventive measures. Nonetheless, the figures presented by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention on World Suicide Prevention Day still provide good reference for stakeholders needing to renew their focus and priorities. Of particular concern is a rise in full-time students taking their lives in recent years. In 2016, 75 of those who committed suicide were aged 15 to 24. Some 29 were studying full-time in schools, and this compared to 19 students in 73 cases in 2012. A campaign in which shoes were used to illustrate the number of deaths is still a powerful reminder of the disturbing situation.
Some students were known to have had academic and psychological problems, but the study also looked at other issues, such as family tensions and money. Given there may be many factors behind suicide, blaming a particular one is too simplistic, but a surge in student deaths suggests our prevention mechanism is inadequate. Currently, teachers and school social workers are supposed to be able to identify those in need of help and to offer counselling. It has to be asked why schools are failing in their role as guardians in this respect.
The rising trend comes at a time when the public is becoming increasingly hooked on social media. While computers and mobile phones are good ways to stay connected with family and friends, they do not necessarily bring people closer together physically or offer the help needed. To what extent social media has contributed to the problem is a subject worthy of more research into how to make better use of the platform to improve supporting services.
With a rate of 12.4 suicides among every 100,000 people, the situation is worrying. The government pledged more preventive measures following the spate of youth suicides two years ago. Whether more needs to be done shall be closely watched, but the outpouring of concern and sympathy after each death is meaningless if not followed by greater efforts to tackle the problem. Hopefully, World Suicide Prevention Day in the future will be marked by progress rather than more empty shoes and disturbing numbers.
WHERE TO GET HELP
● 24-hour Samaritans multi-lingual Suicide Prevention hotline: +852 2896 0000
● 24-hour hotline at Suicide Prevention Services: +852 2382 0000
● 24-hour Samaritans Multi-Lingual Suicide Prevention hotline: +852 2896 0000
● 24-hour hotline at Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong: +852 2389 2222
● Society for the Promotion of Hospice Care: +852 2868 1211