Health and wellness

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain deaths leave Hong Kong a grim message on depression

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 June, 2018, 10:18am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 June, 2018, 7:54pm

The recent suicides of designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain caused shock waves across the world, sending fans into mourning and bringing depression to the forefront of public discourse once again.

While Spade and Bourdain may be unfamiliar figures to many in Hong Kong, their suicides deserve much more of Hongkongers’ attention, as mental health is everyone’s business, regardless of gender, age, social status and nationality.

Being a frontline teacher, I’m particularly worried about our teens, given that puberty is a time that presents many challenges and uncertainties to vulnerable young minds.

On Teachers’ Development Day last week, a veteran social worker was invited to share his experience of handling suicide cases among adolescents in Hong Kong.

Contrary to popular belief, boys seem more likely than girls to actually commit suicide, whereas girls would forewarn people around them about their intention and plans to attempt suicide.

How a sensitive approach can help prevent youth suicide

That makes detecting signs of suicidal thoughts and action among girls much easier and early intervention possible. Boys could be driven by sudden impulse to end their lives, hence adding to the difficulty of pre-empting the tragedy. It doesn’t help that some high achievers are very adept at putting on a model-student façade, hiding their emotional problems instead of seeking help.

Sometimes, all it takes to prevent a suicide is a minute of your time

It is hoped that parents and teachers become better equipped to notice signs of depression and/or suicidal tendencies among teens, so that young lives are not cut short.

Workshops equipping teachers with the skills, knowledge and attitude necessary to spot depressed or suicidal students should be organised more frequently. With the training received, teachers can then make quick referrals of cases to colleagues on the counselling team or the school social worker for intervention.

Specifically, teachers should learn to strike up a conversation skilfully and casually with students who may seem to have a cheerful outlook but secretly struggle with their emotions. Teaching staff should also be more alert and sensitive to telltale signs of suicidal thoughts in such conversations.

Lastly, parents should be active listeners. When children mention their problems, try not to brush aside their worries or lecture them on how life should be lived, using a didactic tone. Being a friendly presence or keeping them company during adversity can make the difference between life and death.

Jason Tang, Tin Shui Wai

Where to get help:

24-hour hotline at Suicide Prevention Services: (852) 2382 0000

24-hour hotline at Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong: (852) 2389 2222

Society for the Promotion of Hospice Care: (852) 2868 1211