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Suicides in Hong Kong

Open Up, Hong Kong’s first 24/7 counselling platform for troubled youth, launches

Responders available on Facebook Messenger, WeChat, WhatsApp and other platforms

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 October, 2018, 8:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 October, 2018, 8:01am

The city’s first round-the-clock online counselling platform for young people has launched, using exclusively online and mobile messaging to talk to people about their troubles.

People aged between 11 and 35 can go to Open Up’s website (www.openup.hk) or message counsellors at hkopenup on Facebook Messenger, Instagram or WeChat. They can also send a WhatsApp or SMS to 91012012.

The service, in English and Chinese, began on October 1. Since it was launched, about 100 people had used it to chat with counsellors each day, who spent an hour on each case on average.

In the coming three years, the platform will recruit 450 volunteer counsellors.

Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, director of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong, which helps run the service, said it aimed to fill the gaps left by current suicide prevention hotlines, for example by being available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some people also felt more comfortable writing down their thoughts and worries than talking about them, he said.

Yip said a surge in suicides two years ago, when the number of cases in a four-month period hit what would normally be an annual count, prompted the idea.

“We asked if there was anything the existing [suicide prevention] services had missed. Then we realised that some students did not find help through traditional ways, but were sometimes leaving online messages to friends without getting replies, so we came up with the idea,” Yip said.

Yip said he expected Open Up to help about 60,000 people in 45 months, the duration of the project.

A project team he led did research using mobile phone and online surveys engaging 1,527 and 1,732 young people respectively, which showed young people preferred text messaging to phone calls or face-to-face conversations. The team found online respondents tended to have more emotional problems than phone call respondents. Among them, 46 per cent had considered suicide and 8 per cent had attempted suicide.

Yip said there would be about four social workers and six trained volunteers in each shift to answer messages. The service will be operated by the centre, the charity Caritas, the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups and The Boys’ & Girls’ Clubs Association.

At the launch of the service, funded with a HK$59.21 million grant from the Jockey Club, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-Chung encouraged young people to actively seek help when they need support.

He said the government would do more in the area of youth development, and the commissions he chaired were looking at how best to help young people, including fostering upward mobility.

“A lot of problems could emerge from pressure and frustration during career development and related challenges,” he said.