Youth suicide: a taboo subject in Hong Kong
When one thinks of Hong Kong, tall-flashy skyscrapers and the bustling, heavily flourishing economy comes to mind. The buzz of the nightlife, coupled with its densely-populated shopping complexes makes Hong Kong a destination for millions of travellers every year. However, the prosperity of Hong Kong’s economy comes at a hefty price, one that cannot be refunded; the lives of young Hong Kongers.
Hong Kong Paediatric Foundation released a report after conducting a survey of 1,685 secondary school students across Hong Kong. It found that 40% of students were depressed, and that 30% had considered suicide or harming themselves, whilst data from Hong Kong's Committee on Prevention of Student Suicide suggests that 24% of primary and secondary school students who committed suicide were known to be worried about their academic performance. This is perhaps due to the strong desire many students in Hong Kong have to prosper, as they feel an immense pressure from society to land a stereotypical 'white collar' job in the future, in order to be considered as accomplished within Hong Kong society. At a young age, students hear the preaching 'good grades will get you into a renowned university and a good job later in life'. This mentality has lead countless of students to believe that the key to happiness is purely from academic achievements and success. Students rarely complain about the heavy workload that is dictated by the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) and other academic qualifications, and sleep for a mere 4-6 hours every night.
Although Hong Kong is ranked 32nd in the world for the number of suicides, the topic is still a sensitive one within the Hong Kong community. Dr Chan Chok Wan, Chairman of Board of Directors of Hong Kong Paediatric Foundation and Past President of the International Pediatric Association, attributes that the further strain of this problem is because of the low health literacy of teenagers in Hong Kong. Health literacy is the ability to acquire and understand basic medical information and make appropriate medical decisions, and according to the survey, 66% of students prefer to handle health issues by searching for information on the internet, rather than seeking professional medical help for mental health and weight management issues. This taboo subject is most probably the root cause, as 38% of students consider their friends’ experiences more reliable as compared to doctor recommendations.
As the number of youth suicides in Hong Kong increases, there is more that needs to be done. Despite the criticisms of the American drama series 13 Reasons Why, it has definitely garnered global attention and has raised awareness for student suicides. Although there is a long way to go for the Hong Kong government, the Education Bureau has released materials such as a Handbook for Detecting, Supporting and Making Referral for Students with Suicidal Behaviours, and seminars to help "identify and support students with suicidal behaviours", so as to “build a connection with the youth to create a supportive safety net for them”; a passive approach to this is not a solution, and we must encourage parents, teachers and students to talk openly about stress and suicide.
Resources from the Education Bureau Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention
Family Life Education Resource Centre
Trisha was born and raised in Kenya and currently lives in Hong Kong. She works as a Director of the non-profit organisation Stand Up Shout Out, promoting youth empowerment in Kenya and Hong Kong. Having organised various MUN conferences, she aspires to see more youth engage in the discussion of global issues especially through D4C. She also strives to see more organisations work towards increasing the access Kenyan girls have to education.