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Suicides in Hong Kong

Suicides among Hong Kong children accounted for quarter of unnatural deaths in 2012 and 2013

Problems arising from school work topped the reasons, followed by worry about the future and family disputes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 September, 2017, 7:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 September, 2017, 7:00am

Suicides among Hong Kong children and adolescents accounted for a quarter of all unnatural deaths in 2012 and 2013, according to a new government report.

It was the second most common cause of unnatural death after accidents.

In those two years there were 20 youngsters between 11 and 17 years old who committed suicide, out of 75 unnatural deaths.

The number of Hongkongers below 18 years old who took their own lives in the period was the lowest in four reports on child fatality issued since 2006.

The figure marked a slight decline from the last report, which said there were 35 suicides in 2010 and 2011.

The latest numbers, based on reports from the Coroner’s Court, brought the suicide total for teens up to 105 between 2006 and 2013.

Problems arising from school work topped the reasons for suicide, followed by worry about the future and family disputes. Most cases involved a mix of factors.

“Parents need to be more aware of symptoms or warning signals that might indicate their children are in a crisis,” Child Fatality Review Panel chairman Herman Hui Chung-shing said.

Seventy per cent of the cases had previously shown suicidal signs, such as leaving death notes or hints on social media, but had gone unnoticed.

Eva Dunn Lai-wah, one of the doctors on the panel who reviewed the cases, said the results reflected that some people underestimated the seriousness of the problem.

“In one case, a boy told his sister that he would die one day on WhatsApp, but she disregarded it as a joke. Another girl wanted to seek psychological help because of academic stress, but her parents thought it was unnecessary. In other cases, some of the notes were left too late,” Dunn said.

Panel members urged family and friends to be more alert to youngsters showing signs of distress or behaving abnormally.

One in three primary school students in Hong Kong at risk of suicide

“A lot of parents or caretakers only notice superficial symptoms, such as when they become irritable or lack motivation to work or go to school. But it might be a signal that they are depressed or show they are unable to handle certain difficulties,” Dunn said.

“Parents should not be so quick to judge and berate their children. Being strict or punishing children is not always the most effective parenting skill.”

The panel reviewed a total of 206 deaths between 2012 and 2013. The majority, 131, died of natural causes, while 75 died of unnatural causes.

Another finding panel members highlighted was a possible link between infant deaths and co-sleeping arrangements with parents.

The circumstances of death in 30 cases, involving mostly infants below the ages of one, were related to sleeping with adults. A third, or 11 cases, happened between 2012 and 2013.

Some included babies prone to moving around in their sleep at night and falling off the bed, or those who had stopped breathing after they turned over on their stomach to sleep.

Paediatrician Tony Lau Ka-fai said it was best for babies to sleep in their own separate cot, and it was unnecessary to place objects on the infant’s chest while sleeping.

If you are feeling stressed or in need of support, you can contact Samaritan Befrienders’ 24-hour hotline on 2389 2222