Months ago, by mixing purple, green and blue cleaning fluids, 63-year-old Ms Yiu concocted a suicidal solution for her woes. Fortunately, the timely arrival of a friend thwarted her attempt to take her own life. Now, Yiu is part of an elderly outreach programme set up by social workers from the Suicide Prevention Services. Her experience is testimony to the importance of community outreach in suicide prevention. The group runs a 24-hour hotline to help people fight off thoughts of suicide. The hotline receives at least 100 calls a day. Suicide rates among Hong Kong's elderly rose sharply last year, with a 61.3 per cent increase in the 60 to 69 age group. With the elderly accounting for 36 per cent of suicides, it prompted concerns that those aged over 60 were particularly vulnerable to self-harm. "Long-term illnesses, poor family relations and financial problems are the primary causes," said the group's executive director, Vincent Ng Chi-kwan. "The holiday period is an especially tough time since many of the elderly are left alone." There also tends to be a lack of knowledge among the elderly in terms of mental and emotional health, Ng said. Yiu was not even aware she could seek medical help for her erratic behaviour, which surfaced after her husband was admitted to hospital in April last year, until she was encouraged by friends and social workers. "I didn't know what was wrong with me. I didn't know which doctor to see," said Yiu, who was diagnosed with depression when she finally sought medical help. Apart from the hotline, the group also organises visits by social workers for those like Yiu who need support. Men are less likely than women to seek help. Of the 370 people in the elderly outreach programme, only 93 are men. "We hope to encourage more men and elderly to speak up," Ng said. An event was held earlier this month that involved 200 volunteers paying visits to 190 elderly people in an effort to promote their emotional well-being. There will also be a luncheon held at the end of next month. "If my friend had not turned up in time, I would probably have drunk the cleaning fluid," Ms Yiu said. Asked for her advice to those who felt suicidal, she said: "Be brave. If you are feeling unwell, you can always call on people … to help you."