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Student suicides raise alarm bells in Hong Kong

The city recorded 27 suspected student suicides in 2023, the highest in four years, govt data shows
Hong Kong’s secondary school students are seen in this file image. A surge in suicide cases among students has prompted the authorities to adopt a countermeasure plan.

Hong Kong’s secondary school students are seen in this file image. A surge in suicide cases among students has prompted the authorities to adopt a countermeasure plan. (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 24, 2023 04:30 AM GMT

A surge in suicide cases among students has prompted authorities in Hong Kong to adopt a plan for greater mental health support in the city, says a report.

The move comes after Hong Kong reported 27 cases of student suicides, the highest in four years, Hong Kong Free Press reported on Nov. 22.

In a letter to the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo), Secretary for Education Christine Choi cited the Covid-19 pandemic and pressure on students after the resumption of schools as possible factors behind the surge, the report stated.

“It is believed that the upward trend may be affected by the epidemic and the greater challenges facing students after the resumption to normalcy,” Choi said.

Choi was responding to questions from Benson Luk, a lawmaker of the city’s legislature, on the prevention of youth suicide.

The surge in suicides recorded until October has already surpassed the annual figures recorded for 2022 and 2020, HKFP reported.

In 2020, Hong Kong schools reported 21 suspected student suicides which rose to 25 in 2021 and remained the same in 2022.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club Center for Suicide Research and Prevention released its suicide figures last week which stated that 37 students took their lives between January and early November.

“Student suicide figures peaked in May and October... while five students had attempted suicide on school premises,” the group said.

Multiple factors affecting mental health

Choi pointed out that multiple factors were affecting the mental health of students often prompting them to harbor suicidal tendencies.

“Students’ personal problems – such as having to adjust to school, depression, and other mental health issues – may also lead to risk of suicide,” Choi said.

Choi emphasized that suicide was a complicated problem and “could not be attributed to any single factor.”

Some of the major risk factors identified from recent suicides involving primary and secondary students included family, social, and relationship problems.

‘Safety net for students’

Choi said that the government was trying to reduce suicide among students with help from all concerned stakeholders and seeks to implement a three-tier emergency mechanism.

“To address the recent tragic incidents of students, the government is pooling efforts from all parties through cross-sectoral collaboration to strengthen support for schools, students and parents so as to build a stronger safety net for students,” Choi said.

The first level of the three-tier mechanism will help schools identify students who may have a greater risk of suicidal thoughts or mental health needs, Choi said.

The second level involves providing “external support” in cases where the school does not have sufficient workforce to cater to students’ needs.

This level includes support from registered social workers and professionals such as psychologists from the bureau or government-supported NGOs.

In the final tier, students with severe mental health needs will be referred to public psychiatric specialist services by their school principals.

“They would be given priority by the hospital authority,” Choi said.

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