Teen Suicide Problems in Hong Kong

Question on youth suicide by Hon KP Chan:

It has been reported that suicide is the number one killer of young people in Hong Kong, and the public are gravely concerned about the problem of youth suicide. It has also been reported that the young people who committed suicide mainly came from grassroots families, and most of them chose an extreme way to commit suicide, which had a profound impact on their families and peers. Earlier, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare also expressed concern about the emergence of suicide groups on the Internet. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

1.     given that in Hong Kong the number of suicide deaths of male has all along been much larger than that of female, and the youth male suicide rate in 2009 increased substantially by 30% as compared with that of 2008, whether the authorities have analyzed the reasons for this phenomenon and taken targeted measures so as to provide ways to solve the problem at source;

2.     given that the authorities collaborated with the major supermarkets in Tuen Mun District in 2006-2007 to lock the shelves for keeping charcoal so that anyone who wanted to buy charcoal had to contact the staff first, which had successfully reduced the number of suicide cases in the district substantially by 50%, whether the Government intends to extend such programme to all the 18 districts in Hong Kong; if so, of the progress; if not, the reasons for that; and

3.     given that in the United States, when Internet users conduct searches relating to suicide methods using major search engines, what always appear first conspicuously on the screen are suicide prevention hotlines of the local governments, whether the authorities will consider collaborating with operators of major local search engines to implement similar measures; whether the authorities will consider setting up a coordinating and reporting mechanism, such as an emergency communication channel between the Police, web sites and network providers, to ensure that once cases similar to incidents of suicide being webcast, which happened quite a number of times in foreign countries in recent years, are found in Hong Kong, they can be stopped in time?

Reply:

My reply to the three parts of the question raised by the Hon Chan Kin-por is set out below:

1.     According to the statistics of the Census and Statistical Department, the number of suicide cases of youths aged between 15 and 24 dropped from 82 in 2008 to 74 in 2009. Among them, the number of suicide cases involving male increased from 44 in 2008 to 51 in 2009.

The Review Panel of the Pilot Project on Child Fatality Review just released its final report in January 2011. Among the 24 cases reported to the Coroner’s Court involving suicide of children and youths aged 17 or below, 17 cases (about 71%) involved youths aged between 15 and 17. The report indicated that the most common reasons for the suicides of children and youths were family relationship problems (11 cases), schooling problems (7 cases) and relationship problems with boyfriend/girlfriend (5 cases).

The Government has been taking a multi-pronged approach in preventing suicide. On welfare services, apart from implementing the policy of “one school social worker for each secondary school”, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) collaborates with the Education Bureau (EDB) to implement the “P.A.T.H.S. to Adulthood: A Jockey Club Youth Enhancement Scheme” which provides counselling, guidance and support services to needy students to assist them in enhancing resilience. In 2011-12, the Government will allocate additional resources to increase the manpower of school social workers by 20% to enhance school social work services and carry out focused anti-drug work so as to strengthen the related counselling services.

Moreover, SWD subvents non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to set up “Hotline Service for Youth at Risk” to provide counselling and assistance to needy youths. SWD also provides a series of support services through Integrated Children and Youth Services Centres, including parent-child activities which strengthen the relationship and communication between parents and children, and enhanced parent education which helps parents better understand the developmental needs of their children and facilitates early identification of their children’s problems as well as seeking help from the relevant service units where necessary.

To meet the needs of people with suicidal tendency, SWD provides crisis intervention and intensive counselling services for them through subventing the Suicide Crisis Intervention Centre (SCIC) of the Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong (SBHK). SCIC also operates the “Suicide Survivors Service” to provide services to relatives and friends of those who had committed suicide.

As for public education, SWD will continue to collaborate with the relevant Government departments through different activities and media to promote positive messages of treasuring life and positive attitude towards adversities.

To strengthen guidance work in primary schools, EDB has improved the manning ratio of student guidance personnel since the 2006/07 school year by providing one student guidance personnel for each school with 18 classes or above. EDB has also increased the resources for the gradual extension of School-based Education Psychology Service to enhance support for schools.

To address the problem of youth suicide, EDB has implemented a number of initiatives to help parents and teachers identify early students with suicidal tendency, including the provision of guidelines and resource package etc. EDB also reminded schools to identify and provide support services in time to students who might be involved in the online suicide groups in 2009 and encouraged schools to appeal to parents to support the work. Parents and teachers are suggested to refer to the Checklist of Youth Suicidal Risk Factors or the Risk Assessment Checklist at the EDB website to further assess students with unusual emotion or behaviour.

On medical and health services, the Student Health Service Centres of the Department of Health provide health check for Primary 1 to Secondary 7 students, including surveys on mental health and behaviour. Students with emotional or behavioural problems or even suicidal tendency will be referred to the Hospital Authority (HA), SWD or welfare organisations for follow-up services. The Student Health Service Centres also organise talks on social and mental health. Information on psychosocial health is also disseminated via pamphlets and uploaded onto the Student Health Service website. The Adolescent Health Programme under the Student Health Service provides basic life skills training and topical programmes to help youths establish positive attitude and thinking. Besides, HA provides relevant specialist services to youths with suicidal tendency. The child and adolescent psychiatric service conducts comprehensive suicidal risk assessments for needy cases and arranges various follow-up services.

2.     The pilot scheme of changing the method of selling charcoal packs was a project under a study on a community-based programme for preventing suicide in Tuen Mun conducted by a local university and commissioned by the Government in 2006. The pilot scheme was implemented with the collaboration of SWD, HA, Tuen Mun Hospital, Tuen Mun Police District as well as five supermarkets and convenience stores in the district. During the implementation of the pilot scheme, although the number of suicide attempts by charcoal burning decreased from seven to five, the number of suicide attempts by other means increased from 104 to 150 in the same period. As the initiative did not have a substantial impact on reducing suicide attempts, the Government has no plan to implement the pilot scheme in all 18 districts in Hong Kong at this stage. We will closely monitor the suicide trends and situation of individual districts, and where necessary, collaborate with relevant organisations to implement measures that suit district circumstances and needs.

3.     At present, if keywords like “suicide” are searched on the internet using the major search engines in Hong Kong, the search results will include information on suicide prevention services. As persons with suicidal tendency may leave traces on blogs or online groups, etc., SWD subvents SCIC of SBHK to implement a “Blog Search Scheme” to strengthen online patrols by searching blogs for keywords like “suicide” and providing emotional support services for persons with high suicidal risk. Since April 2010, SWD has allocated additional resources to SCIC to develop an online platform for reaching out needy persons with interactive tools. Moreover, SWD will implement the three-year “Pilot Cyber Youth Outreaching Projects” later this year with funding from the Lotteries Fund to reach out to needy youths proactively through the internet, including those with emotional problems and suicidal tendency, and provide timely intervention and support.

Upon receipt of any report from the public on any online suicide group or suicide claim, SWD, SCIC and the Police will quickly intervene by looking for the persons with suicidal tendency and providing them with counselling services through maintaining close contact with websites, internet service providers and other NGOs. Moreover, for cases involving criminal element, the Police will conduct thorough investigation and take arrest actions.

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