Hong Kong counsellors turn to social media as youth suicides rise

Social Media

HONG KONG: There were more suicides among young people in Hong Kong in 2015 than there were in the previous year.

Records from the Coroner’s Court showed there were 70 suicides involving people aged between 15 and 24, twenty-three of them were students.

It is a worrying trend as this age group’s suicide rate has climbed from 6.2 per 100,0000 people in 2014 to 8.5 in 2015, according to the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention.

In the first eight months of 2016 alone, there have been 26 suicides among students, already surpassing last year’s total. The city’s overall suicide rate, meanwhile, has been steadily declining from 18.6 per 100,000 back in 2003 to just 12.6 last year.

Top suicide expert Paul Yip, who runs the city’s Suicide Research and Prevention Centre, said a spate of student suicides between March and April this year had the undesired copycat effect.

“The suicides suddenly generated a lot of media interest, a lot of coverage, a lot of sharing in social media circles as well,” said Prof Yip. “And when we talk to these people, sharing this negative news so much, so intensely, it actually generates quite a bit of negative momentum.”


Data from the Suicide Prevention Centre shows that more than 30 per cent of youngsters who kill themselves turned to social media for help – either to express their suicidal thoughts, to seek help, or even research suicide methods.

So the plan now is to reach out to popular peers online – the Centre has partnered with six popular local YouTube personalities to help identify those at risks and spread the anti-suicide message.

“If we can engage them while they are online, we’ll hopefully be able to provide some timely help and effective intervention” said Prof Yip, who has also been recently appointed chairman of the government’s new Committee on Prevention of Student Suicides.

Among those enlisted are local YouTube sensations like Jason, who has 440,000 followers, and produces popular video clips on games and inventions.

He suffered from depression six years ago.

“There was a time when I was depressed and there was pressure at work, so I did have suicidal thoughts,” he said. “But in the end, my family helped to set me straight, to help me take a step back.”

He added: “It was coming out of this depression that I realised what you don’t see at the time. There were plenty of options and that has helped to change my outlook in life.”

Under the Centre’s new programme, these YouTube gurus enlisted to help will be taught how to engage those at risk online and refer the risky cases to trained professional counsellors.

“I thought with so many followers, I had a channel to share my story, voice my concern, do a short video to engage them,” said Jason. “Just to let them know not to give up, that there’s help out there, either family or friends.”

Facebook’s Suicide Prevention Tool, which was launched in the US last year, has now been extended to the rest of the world, including Hong Kong.

The tool allows Facebook users to highlight suicidal postings or thoughts to Facebook, who will then forward them to a trained volunteer to either call or message the distressed person.

George Chen, Head of Public Policy at Facebook Hong Kong, said that social media is playing an increasingly important role in suicide prevention.

“When they have problem, youths first turn to messaging rather than pick up the phone,” said Chen. “The hotline is still important, what I’m trying to say is that we provide a new alternative, more chance for communication.”


Prof Yip would also like to see better support systems at schools.

“In all the recent suicide cases, the victims all suffered from relationship problems,” he said. “They felt alone or disconnected, or their family wasn’t close enough.”

Prof Yip is helping the government to look into ways of empowering teachers and social workers in the short-term, and in the longer-term to train students themselves to be gatekeepers.

He stressed that building a more caring and communicative environment at home and at school is key to breaking down problems like academic or peer pressure for students.

[Source:-Channel New Asia]