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Speech by Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food


Following is the speech (English only) by the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong, at the Opening Ceremony of Asia-Pacific Regional Conference on Prevention of Elderly Suicide today (March 24):

Ms Wong, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to be here today to officiate at the Opening Ceremony of the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference on Prevention of Elderly Suicide. I would like to congratulate the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, the Hong Kong Psychogeriatric Association and the Social Welfare Department for successfully organising this conference under the three-year Live Life! Joint Project on Prevention of Elderly Suicide.

Suicide is one of the most disturbing forms of death resulting in the loss of valuable members of society. It also brings enormous distress for the surviving family and friends. As suicidal ideations arise from a complex interplay of various factors, we need more in-depth study of the phenomenon, and a multi-disciplinary approach in tackling the problem.

To tackle the problem of suicides, the government adopts a four-pronged strategy -

Firstly, we enhance our understanding of suicide by strengthening data collection, undertaking local research and reviewing overseas experience;

Secondly, we provide a range of preventive, supportive and remedial services, with a view to mitigating the risk factors and strengthening the protective factors, and providing timely intervention and assistance;

Thirdly, we strengthen public education and publicity programmes for the community to enhance their understanding and alertness; and

Fourthly, we strengthen training for frontline professionals to enhance their knowledge and skills.

In Hong Kong, elderly suicide death rate has always been comparatively higher than the suicide death rates in other age groups. In the 1990s, the death rate of suicide by older persons was generally around 30 per 100 000 elderly population, compared to 15 per 100 000 general population. The death rate of suicide by older persons has however gradually decreased and stabilised to 26.7 in 2002. While we do not yet have official figures for 2003, the community has undergone a very difficult year last year, and overall suicide figures, including those of suicide by older persons, may have gone up slightly.

According to the findings of multi-disciplinary research to look into the causes of suicide by older persons in Hong Kong, elderly suicide can be attributed to the interplay of a host of complex social, physiological and psychological factors, including mental illness, chronic physical illness, negative life events, social isolation, financial problems, family problems, and sense of hopelessness, etc. Another distinguishing feature is personality traits. Elders with past suicide attempts were found to be more neurotic, less extroverted, less open to experience, less agreeable and less conscientious.

To reduce the risk factors and strengthen the protective factors connected with suicide by older persons, the government has implemented a wide range of general services aimed at supporting healthy ageing, and specific services in preventing suicide by older persons.

To promote healthy ageing, the government has, in collaboration with the Elderly Commission, launched a Healthy Ageing Campaign since 2001 to promote public awareness on the importance of healthy ageing. Separately, the Department of Health, through its Elderly Health Services, also actively engages in the promotion of physical and psychosocial health among elders living in the community and in residential care homes. Many District Elderly Community Centres run by Non Government Organisations (NGOs) also play an important role in providing social support to the elderly members, and by outreaching to the more vulnerable and frail elders.

Apart from general preventive services, the government has also developed specific prevention programmes.

The three-year Live Life! Joint Project on Prevention of Elderly Suicide, of which this Conference is an important component, is an important project aimed at increasing public awareness towards suicide by older persons, and providing counselling and psychogeriatric services to elders with suicidal risks. This project provides a good basis for us to further test out various prevention and intervention measures on suicide by older persons.

As depression has been identified as one of the most important factors leading to suicide by older persons, the Hospital Authority, in collaboration with NGOs providing services for elders, has also developed a territory-wide Elderly Suicide Prevention Programme since October, 2002, running seven fast-track clinics across Hong Kong to facilitate the early detection of and timely intervention for elders with depression and suicidal risks. The authority is also organising training programmes for doctors and health care professionals on prevention of suicide by older persons.

We will undertake regular evaluation of the services provided to ensure that they address the identified risk factors and update the preventive strategies and programmes which are necessary. I must stress that despite the various services put in place by the government and NGOs, the community, family and various professionals coming into regular contact with elders must be alert to early signs of distress in elders, and take prompt steps to refer them to the appropriate services. In this respect, public awareness and understanding of the problem is very important.

I look forward to this conference further promoting public understanding of the problem of suicide by older persons. I also look forward to your ideas and suggestions as to how we can better tackle this problem together. Finally, may I take this opportunity to wish this event every success and my warmest regards to all of you, particularly those of you who have travelled from abroad to this conference.

Thank you.

Ends/Wednesday, March 24, 2004


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