Time to End Youth Suicide in Hong Kong

Just Yesterday, a 12-year-old schoolboy has died after falling from the rooftop of an apartment building in Aberdeen. Indeed, in recent years, the news of youngsters committing suicide often makes the headlines. 53 cases of student suicide have been recorded since August 2015. The trend is disturbing and should not be overlooked. It is of paramount importance to pinpoint the underlying reasons and seek ways to address this alarming situation.

There has been a staggering surge in the number of suicide cases. The trend reveals a steady increase from 9 to 14 suicide cases pertaining post-secondary students up till 2016. In particular, this situation shows the urgency to combat primary and secondary students’ attempts at committing suicide. The number of attempts increased approximately by twofold from 10 to 19 cases in the duration of three years. Experts in the field of education, health and youth are mapping out ways to curb this unprecedented trend since 1981.

Number of suicide committed from year 2013-14 to 2015-16 among primary, secondary and post-secondary students. Source: Quartz <https://qz.com/904483/a-spate-of-student-suicides-is-forcing-hong-kong-to-confront-its-cutthroat-school-system/>

Stress from the city’s high-pressure education system is the culprit of their attempting suicide. As far as high school students are concerned, most are under enormous strain especially when the Diploma of Secondary Education Exam (DSE) is approaching. The exam-oriented assessments also drive school to arrange all kinds of additional classes to help students scramble for limited university places. However, even securing a place at universities is still unable to stem the trend; the number of university students committing suicide has been escalating.

Ho Ying Hon, a veteran principal of the Caritas Fanling Chan Chun Ha Secondary School, attributed the phenomenon to the reform of a six-year secondary and four-year university education system several years ago.

“As students enter university a year earlier than in the previous system, they might lack the ability to cope with pressure and maturity in dealing with stress and tension.” Hon said, “Frankly speaking, cases of secondary school students reporting that they find it hard to get used to university life have been on the increase from time to time,”

Meanwhile, young people are having a hard time living up to their parents’ high expectations. Since most couples only have 1 or 2 children these days, it is understandable that they are very concerned about their children’s future. In turn, they set aside extra time and money to give their offspring a head start over the competitors, organizing a broad range of “extra-curricular activities”: tutorial class, piano class, swimming class and the like.

But children’s preferences, interests, needs are ignored. They seem to be a tool to fulfill their parents’ great hopes at the expense of their desirable and happy childhood. Sad to say, a number of young people cannot satisfy these high expectations; they are gnawed by depression and frustration. Life is meaningless for some of them, leading to their committing suicide as a gesture of discontent over their parents’ pressing demand.

Misleading reports about youth suicide of the mass media should also shoulder the blame. Very often, news report on youth suicide is partial, excessive and exaggerated, occupying half or even one full page accompanied with striking photos and illustrations showing the ways of committing suicide. Indeed, some immature young would unconsciously imitate such act. In 2013, there was a genuine report of a 14-year-old boy hanging himself, followed shortly by another suicide committed by the boy’s classmate. To top it off, the report includes some specialists giving a detailed analysis of psychology and the state of mind of the suicide victim, ending with comments namely, “I wonder why children don’t cherish their lives.” Yet, there is little on how those in crisis can take counter-measures, making it highly ineffective in deterring youngsters from committing suicide.

With a view to alleviating this dire situation, every party, including youngsters themselves, has an indispensable role to play. It is a stunning idea for the young to contribute to society by participating in voluntary work: flag-selling, serving the elderly, the underprivileged and so on. Since this can give them a sense of achievement, they will find life rewarding and purposeful; they will no longer dwell on their problems but face them with optimism and learn to cherish their life. Added to this, young people should learn to show concern for people around them, namely grandparents, classmates, and relatives. Building an intimate bond with them, once they trigger suicidal thought, they would think of how much he or she means to these people.

The school is a key holder in suicidal prevention. It is essential for schools to strengthen life education, instill students the right set of values and help them foster an optimistic attitude in encountering difficulties.

Dr. Jadis Blurton, Head of Harbour School in Hong Kong and a cognitive development clinical psychologist stressed, “So this generation that is in school right now are going to be developing systems for creating better life balance, and also better responsibility towards the earth.”

Truly if schools can strive to provide students with person-centred education with love and care, students can maximize their potential to lead an abundant life and to serve the community.

Parents ought to think from their children’s perspective. Understanding their situation and what they think, parents can bridge the gap between them and their children. Since lack of parental concern is one of the primary reasons of youngsters committing suicide, talking and sharing with their kids would be the best way to understand their feelings and thoughts. In this way, trust is built up, which significantly lessens conflicts between two generations. More importantly, parents should help their children set a realistic and achievable goal; this can certainly help youngsters orient themselves in life. With a dream to pursue and caring parents to support them, adolescents find their future promising.

The mass media has a pivotal role to play in curbing this escalating trend. There needs to be a balance between press freedom, the right to report, and the social obligation to respect life in reporting youth suicide. The media should avoid sensational reports and refrain from describing suicidal methods in detail but provide readers with practical ways to cope with pressure. Furthermore, featuring stories about people whose path to success is rugged is particularly effective in filling youngsters with optimism. In the long run, this can discourage youngsters from attempting suicide.

The Education Bureau has announced measures including improving student counseling service, holding seminars equipping teachers and parents with skills to identify pre-suicide symptoms, and forming a committee to figure out preventative solutions. Although the effects are to be seen in the next few years, it is nevertheless deemed some preliminary steps to tackle this growing trend.

Undoubtedly, the spiraling number of youngsters committing suicide will put our society in jeopardy. With the joint efforts of youngsters, school, parents, the mass media and the authority, only then can we make a positive difference.

Dear teenagers, life is a gift. Never take it for granted. Treasure this gift; treasure your lives.


Video on report:


Writer: William, Ho Ho Wai

Editor: Seong Hyeon Choi (Vincent)

Copy Editor: Pao Roann

Multimedia Team: Lexie Ma Xiaochi

Online Team: Joy, Chung Wai Ling

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