Hasty efforts to turn people from depressed and suicidal thoughts may backfire, said the Samaritan Befrienders, as they urged people to listen with empathy and be patient with people at risk. They also warned against commenting indifferently or callously on people expressing depressed thoughts on social media.

“We, as humans, tend to hope that we can persuade them as soon as possible [not to be suicidal],” said Ho Wing-hung, Officer for Suicide Crisis Intervention Centre of the Samaritan Befrienders, at a press conference on Thursday.

samaritan befrienders hong kong suicide
Ho Wing-hung from the Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong. Photo: RTHK screencap.

“If we quickly show [attitudes] like ‘what you’re thinking is silly’, ‘don’t be like this’, and ‘I’m very positive so be like me’, they [people with depressed thoughts] may think you’re not on the same page as them,” said Ho. “[After this,] they may not come and talk to you again.”

He added that simply by listening, people may feel that they are understood and cared for.

Ho urged people to contact social workers or even the police if people revealed depressed thoughts or suicide plans online.

student suicide

The press conference came on Thursday, after the suicide of a 20-year-old student on Wednesday took the toll of student suicides to 18 since the start of the academic year in September 2015, according to Ming Pao statistics.

Communication shifted to social media

The Samaritan Befrienders reported a decreased number of young people seeking help from them. They said that in 2015, only 3.5 per cent of the 17,000 cases of people seeking help were young people.

“The decreasing number in [people] seeking help is a reflection of the younger generation using online social media for communication,” said Joyce Chow Yuen-fun, the Chairwoman of the Samaritan Befrienders.

samaritan befrienders suicide
Left to Right: Wong Yao-wing, Joyce Chow Yuen-fun, and Ho Wing-hung.

She said that Samaritan volunteers would go into online platforms where young people are active. “We hope that on these platforms, we can find people who might be suffering from emotional distress. If we find any cases, we will initiate counselling and hope to get in touch with them,” she added.

She said that the Samaritans Befrienders would increase its “HeartChat” service hours, from 8pm to 12pm on weekdays, to 8pm to 2am.

Regarding the cases of student suicides in the past week, she said that copycat suicides cannot be ruled out. She suggested that parents watch the related news with their children and use the chance to express their care.

Education Bureau sets up committee

Meanwhile, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim said: “We are going to form a committee to work closely, diligently on the subject.”

He said that the committee would include representatives from schools and institutions, parents groups, professional institutions and other related departments. He said that the committee would submit a report in six months’ time.

eddie ng education suicide
Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim. Photo: Gov HK.

Ng also said that the Education Bureau had acknowledged the need for “additional expertise and resources for the educational psychologists and professional counselors”, and would launch five particular district-based seminars, four for schools and one for parents.

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Experts react

Hong Kong Subsidized Secondary Schools Council Chairman James Lam Yat-fung expressed hope that the seminars could allow teacher representatives to bring knowledge back to their schools to follow up on issues.

Amos Cheung Chuen-yih, Chairman of Division of Clinical Psychology, the Hong Kong Psychological Society, said, “I will say that [they] have done something. But is it really a complete remedy for the problems?”

Amos Cheung Chuen-yih suicide psychology
Amos Cheung Chuen-yih. Photo: RTHK screen cap.

“The core [problem] is the issue of hope – whether this generation of young people feels hope,” he added.

Both were speaking on an RTHK radio programme.

In response to Ng’s announcement, Chairwoman of the Samaritan Befrienders Chow said that that the focus should be on the root causes of the suicides. “If you don’t solve the root of the problem, the illness may come again.”

She added that when young people have problems, the first person they turn to may not be their parents or teachers, but their peers. She said that if their friends learn how to communicate with them and comfort them, even by simply patting them on their shoulders, this is already a good remedy.

If you are experiencing negative feelings, please call the Samaritans, a 24-hour multilingual suicide prevention hotline, on 2896 0000.

Hermina is a Hong Kong writer and journalist. She graduated with a degree in politics from Cambridge, and is interested in international affairs, particularly those related to China, the EU and the Middle East. She also enjoys political satire.