Yip Siu-fai, head of a newly set-up committee on prevention of student suicides, says that society lacks understanding of mental health issues, and that they are looking into whether individuals had refused to seek help due to the stigma.

The committee was established in March by the Education Bureau, in response to the series of suicides by students earlier this year. Yip is the Director of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong. Members of the committee include school, parent, youth and student representatives, social workers and healthcare professionals, as well as government officials.

Yip Siu-fai, chair of the committee. File

On an RTHK programme on Monday, Yip said, “I don’t think it’s that people don’t attach enough importance to [the issue of student suicides] – it’s that everyone lacks knowledge and understanding of mental health issues. We hope to improve their understanding, education and research, and to do more work for those in need of help.”

Yip also said that the committee had analysed 34 cases of student suicides over the past three years and found that 20 per cent were receiving mental healthcare. However, in western countries, 80 per cent of those who commit suicide had already been diagnosed as having mental illnesses before their deaths, RTHK reported.

Primary school students. File

Yip added that the the committee was concerned about whether there was a shortage in Hong Kong of relevant services, or the problem was that the individual at risk refuses to receive treatment due to stigma.

The committee submitted a report on their findings to the government earlier. One of the suggestions involve sending senior nurses with training in psychiatry to some schools in order to support students in need. Yip said he hoped this would help teachers who may not know how to deal with such issues.

The committee also found that pressure from schoolwork was often an indirect cause of suicides, but more often it was that students did not have a good relationship with their family, and were being forced to study instead of building on their own interests.

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.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.