Doctor warns of suicide risk as 40pc of Hong Kong pupils suffer stress as new term begins

Exams and homework are the biggest source of anxiety, with doctor warning that pressure may drive some vulnerable youngsters to suicide

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 September, 2015, 4:30am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 September, 2015, 10:58am

Forty per cent of school pupils feel under pressure and anxious when a new term starts and experience symptoms such as fatigue, stomach ache and insomnia, a Federation of Youth Groups poll shows.

Their biggest fears are exams (61 per cent), homework (52 per cent) and the difficulty of their courses (48 per cent). More than one in 10 polled said they had suffered anxiety as a result.

A doctor warned that youngsters who struggled to cope with the pressure could resort to suicide as a way out.

The federation polled almost 4,000 male and female primary and secondary students across the city in August and September.

Dr Henry Cheung Hon-kee, a specialist in psychiatry, said: "Some people commit suicide because they cannot cope with pressure, not just because of depression.

"If the student doesn't feel ready for school and the new environment, he will feel stressed. And, if he cannot let out the pressure, the student may choose suicide at a moment when he can't take it anymore.

"Everyone is a pressure pot and how much a person can take varies."

Cheung said while the problem of back-to-school stress causing suicides was not as bad as in Japan, he was worried that media reports of suicides would lead to copycat behaviour among youngsters. He also noted that more people sought mental health assistance in private clinics at the start of new school terms and exam periods.

Hours before the survey findings were released, a 13-year-old boy jumped to his death from a window at his home in Hung Hom. Police said the boy had been unhappy at school.

To ease pressure and anxiety, Cheung suggested youngsters try to relax and get plenty of sleep. If symptoms of stress and anxiety persisted for two weeks, they should see a doctor.

Hsu Siu-man, a supervisor of the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, said: "In a new school year, students, after relaxing for the whole summer, have to adapt to a new environment. This period easily creates anxiety. The results show the worries of the students are primarily academically related."

A recent report by a government panel revealed that suicide was the biggest cause of unnatural death among children in Hong Kong.

The suicide rate in the city among those aged 15 to 24 rose by about 2 per cent last year. Suicide prevention workers blamed exorbitant housing costs, the lack of social mobility and a negative perception of young people in society.

Raymond Lo Pak-shing, a Form Four pupil who attended a workshop run by the federation, said: "There are many worries when school starts. I worry about life, grades and career path. But I try talk to teachers and friends."

Cherry Chan Cheuk-ying, who is studying engineering at university, also went to the workshop yesterday to learn more about mental health.

"At school, some of my classmates were quite depressed. They feared they couldn't catch up with course work," she said.