The government has set up a new committee to examine the causes of the recent student suicide incidents in order to make recommendations on appropriate preventive measures. One of the surprise appointees to the committee was the president of the University of Hong Kong’s Student Union.

More than 20 students have taken their own lives since the start of the academic year in September last year, including secondary school and university students. The government announced it would form the committee earlier this month.

“We are deeply concerned about student suicides, and will mobilise the whole community and promote cross-sector collaboration to prevent further tragedy by devising effective measures to reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors,” a spokesperson for the Education Bureau said in a press release.

The new committee in a briefing session.
The new committee in a briefing session. Photo: Facebook/Eddie Ng HK.

The committee is chaired by Paul Yip Siu-fai, director of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at HKU. Other members include school principals from primary school and secondary schools, academics, doctors, psychologists and professionals in the social welfare sector.

A notable appointee was Althea Suen Hiu-nam – the incumbent president of HKU’s student union – the only student in the committee. It is considered rare for a student to be appointed to a government committee.

Suen previously said she supports the notion of independence for Hong Kong, a stance that the government disagrees with.

“The government wishes to listen to the views of different parties, and is especially anxious to know how university students perceive the issue and what suggestions they offer,” the spokesperson said.

The government added in the release that it is keen to engage “dedicated people of the right calibre, regardless of their political views”, as Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying suggested after the District Council election last November.

“As long as young people are willing to contribute, the government will heed their opinions through the work of different advisory bodies.” the release read.

Althea Suen.
Althea Suen. Photo: Stand News.

Althea Suen told RTHK that she accepted the invitation as she hoped the committee would include real voices from young people, since the committee’s first task would be to understand the sources of pressure upon students.

She added that there has to be a full review of the system to prevent more students from committing suicide, as her fellow students were very concerned about the recent cases.

The committee is expected to submit a report in six months.

She suggested there could be short term measures before the full report, such as increasing awareness.

If you are experiencing negative feelings, please call: The Samaritans 2896 0000 (24-hour, multilingual), Suicide Prevention Centre 2382 0000 or the Social Welfare Department 2343 2255. The Hong Kong Society of Counseling and Psychology provides a WhatsApp hotline in English and Chinese: 6218 1084.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.