"I cannot be defeated; the only thing that can defeat me is my mind."

-- Written in 2004 by A.B., Age 15, Illinois

Hong Kong Youth Need Creative Suicide Prevention Programmes


This editorial, written by Chung Tang, Executive Director of KELY Support Group, was published in the June issue of the "Britain in Hong Kong" magazine by the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

A total of 4 teen suicides have taken place over the past 4 months in Hong Kong. The cases involved young people between the ages of 15 to 16, with the reasons ranging from a parent’s divorce to a parent’s dispute, a break-up with a boyfriend, and to poor academic results. Such tragic turn of events has had a devastating impact on the families and friends of the young victims, and continues to have a rippling effect in the surrounding community that is in a state of shock. Based on such incidences, the history of young suicide in Hong Kong and the enormous challenges our young people are facing today, there is an urgent need for society to come together and create effective platforms for our young people, to express their issues and find appropriate support and resources to address them. Our young people are simply not doing as well as they used to and are struggling to find their way in one the most pressurised cities in the world.

According to the 2011 census there were 860,002 young people who were between the ages of 15 to 24 living in Hong Kong. These youth comprise of all diversities, including various countries of origin, socio-economic, gender, abilities, as well as sexual orientation. From this group, many continue to face in silence a wide range of life-threatening issues, including: drug and alcohol addiction, violence and abuse, self-harm and negative body image, as well as suicide ideation (having thoughts of suicide).

Suicide amongst young people in Hong Kong is a very serious issue that is rarely spoken of, something that continues to be swept under the carpet and is considered taboo. Whether it is due to cultural reasons, stigma, or ignorance, there has been very little discussion concerning youth suicide within our various institutions, including our schools, community centres, or even in our homes. More specifically, unlike the United Kingdom, United States or Australia, the SAR government does not have a national strategy on suicide prevention. For schools throughout the city, principals, teachers, and social workers are not required to be trained in suicide prevention and intervention, unlike practices in certain American States.

Recent research from Dr. Paul Yip Director of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, Hong Kong University, found that in a sampling of 715 youths, 3 out of 10 Hong Kong youth aged 15 to 19 have admitted to contemplating suicide, 6% had considered suicide in the past year, and 2.8% had actually attempted suicide (Teen Suicide: Latest Survey, SCMP, 21, May, 2013). The profile of young people who are committing suicide in Hong Kong are usually males who are post 80’s, suffer from chronic low-self and are unemployed. These males often do not have the ability to express their issues, and are unwilling to find support during their most difficult moments (Paul Yip, The University of Hong Kong Bulletin, June 2011).

The above trends are evidently very troubling, since many Hong Kong youth have become increasingly hidden, often choosing to stay in their rooms, shunning their friends and family, and communicating through their computers and smartphones. Coupled with this trend is the increasingly high unemployment amongst youth 15-19 years of age, which is usually 3 to 4 times higher than for the average adult in the city. These youth, because of the lack of opportunities available to them, become increasingly vulnerable and find themselves sinking into a world of depression, chronic low-esteem and even substance abuse.

Since having been established over 22 years ago, KELY Support Group (KELY) has worked tirelessly to help young people across the city find their inner strengths to address their issues through positive peer support, leadership development and mentorship. As a youth centred organisation, we firmly believe that the lives of all young people are indeed precious and valuable. Not only must they be our next generation of thought leaders and contributors, they are more importantly, our children, our family and our friends, indeed people we ought to protect and nurture.

Last year, KELY was very fortunate to have received a grant of HK$978,624 from the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong which was matched by the Partnership Fund for the Disadvantaged, to implement an 18 month suicide prevention programme entitled “There’s Always Tomorrow 2” . The programme aims to help some of the most vulnerable youth from schools in Kwai Tsing, Shum Shui Po and Kwun Tong to express their thoughts about youth suicide through youth-friendly focus groups, learn prevention and interventions techniques taught by suicide prevention psychologist and specialists, engage their peers through performance arts including choreographed percussion, drama and rope skipping, as well as holding the first youth-driven conference and musical drama on young suicide in Hong Kong. Currently in its 8th month, the programme has made significant inroads into the local education system, and has for the first time facilitated open dialogue between students and teachers on traditionally taboo topics such as self-harming and bullying.

Based on initial focus group findings, young female students were better able to disclose some of their inner most fears and concerns with regards to their friends, school and family life. Out of the many students, one spoke of a friend who had suicidal thoughts, but felt extremely helpless since she didn’t have the confidence to help. She stated that through the suicide prevention training, she is now better equipped to help that person and any others in need.

Another student talked about how she was bullied during her primary school years for being different, and how this has had a lasting negative effect on her self-esteem and self-worth. She mentioned that although things improved in high school, she never really felt strong enough to tackle her inner demons. However, as a result of the drama training, she was able to truly reflect and begin to feel confident in overcoming any challenges that heads her way.

Through the educational workshops, several students disclosed to us that they thought self-harm (for example, making small cuts to one’s arm), was an effective way of dealing with their stress and unhappiness. One 14 year old girl felt that this was the only way to address boredom, and gain attention from others. Fortunately, through our various workshops, these female students learnt healthier ways to deal with the above-mentioned issues.

As we move further into the programme, we have witnessed the enormous impact we have had on the students we have been working with so far. Through the generous support, understanding and the vision we share with the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, we are able to make a tremendous difference to some of the most vulnerable young people in our local community. We are grateful to the Chamber for believing in our work, and enabling us to develop much needed creative platforms for young people to address such a difficult and rarely spoken of topic. Most importantly, we thank the Chamber in helping us save young people’s lives in Hong Kong.

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