LCQ12: Prevention of child and youth suicide

     Following is the question by the Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (October 14):

Question :

     According to the statistics published by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention (CSRP) of the University of Hong Kong last month, the suicide rates in Hong Kong have dropped continuously since 2003.  However, the suicide rate of youths aged 15 to 24 increased by 1% to 2% last year, as compared with that of the year before. Since the commencement of the current school year last month, there have already been three cases in which three students aged 11 to 21 committed suicide and died. In a telephone survey conducted in 2013 on 1 010 young people aged 12 to 29, CSRP found that 30.9% of the respondents had experienced emotional distress and 28% of them had not sought any help. On the other hand, the Education Bureau updated the School Administration Guide in this September, which reminds teachers in its "Student suicide cases" section that they should not "over-patronise students who attempted to suicide afterwards". Some clinical psychologists are of the view that the relevant contents of such section may mislead teachers. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the child and youth suicide statistics in the past five years, including the respective numbers of fatal and attempted cases and the number of requests for assistance made because they contemplated suicide;

(2) whether the authorities added contents on mental health to the relevant primary and secondary school curricula in the past five years so as to raise the self-awareness of students and enable them to identify warning signals of suicide in their peers and to be more proactive in seeking help, thereby preventing suicide;

(3) whether the authorities stepped up efforts in promoting the message of cherishing life among children and youths in the past five years, and informed them and their parents of the channels available for seeking assistance; if they did, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(4) whether the authorities allocated additional resources to the relevant non-governmental organisations in the past five years for the early provision of appropriate services to suicide-prone children and youths; if they did, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(5) whether the authorities made reference to overseas experience in the past five years and studied ways to lower the suicide rates of children and youths; if they did, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(6) as the statistics of CSRP indicated that many children and youths experiencing emotional distress had not sought assistance from their families and teachers, whether the authorities taught parents and teachers in the past five years, through issuing clear guidelines and organising seminars, how to (i) identify warning signals of suicide in children and youths at an early stage, and (ii) provide them with appropriate assistance; if they did, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply :


     My reply to the Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat's question is as follows:

(1) According to the latest information provided by the Census and Statistics Department, the figures of known suicide deaths of children and youth in Hong Kong in the past five years are set out in Annex 1.

     There is no official statistical information in Hong Kong on attempted suicide cases or the number of requests for assistance made by people who contemplated suicide. At present, there are three non-governmental organisations (NGOs) providing suicide prevention hotline services. The number of calls received by these hotline services in the past five years is set in Annex 2.

(2) The primary and secondary school curricula of Hong Kong cover contents on emotion management, ways to cope with negative emotion and understanding oneself, etc.

     At primary level, the strand of "Health and Living" in the subject of General Studies helps students understand the importance of living in responsible ways to reflect a loving regard for life. Related topics at junior primary level include: understanding oneself and personal emotion, dealing with stress and frustration, etc. At senior primary level, the curriculum of General Studies helps students learn how to express their anxieties, tension and doubts. Also, they will learn to seek assistance when needed, on behalf of their friends or themselves, from family members, counsellors or relevant organisations.

     At secondary level, the curriculum of Life and Society (Secondary 1-3) includes topics which help promote students' mental health, such as "self-understanding, self-esteem and self-confidence", "healthy lifestyle and self-management" and "coping with adversities" etc. The subject of Liberal Studies (Secondary 4-6) covers contents on adolescents' developmental changes and challenges, coping with pressure and interpersonal relationship, and healthy lifestyle, etc. It is conducive to deepening students' self-understanding, nurturing the development of their positive attitudes, and developing their capacity to handle frustrations and adversities that they may encounter in daily situations.

     Schools also strengthen students' capacity to handle adversities through the provision of experiential learning experiences. The Education Bureau (EDB) encourages schools to establish a caring and harmonious school environment and strengthen home-school cooperation and peer support, with the aim of helping students adopt a positive attitude when facing and handling difficulties and challenges in life. In addition, schools will utilise class teacher periods, moral and civic education classes, etc. for helping students to cope with their personal growth and development, and prepare them to deal with life changes. Many primary and secondary schools have collaborated with tertiary institutions, governmental and NGOs to develop school-based curricula aimed at enhancing the qualities of students' mental health and their capabilities to cope with adversities through experiential learning experiences or engaging students in life planning.

(3) On publicity and public education, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) has all along been collaborating with the relevant government departments to promote positive messages like "There are always more solutions than problems" and "Embrace your hopes, Cherish your love" etc., through different programmes and media, such as promotional items and short videos, etc., with a view to strengthening resilience towards adversity for people from all walks of life. It also aims to encourage persons who are in distress or facing adversity, including children and youth, to seek help early to cope with their problems. In 2014, SWD produced a series of short animations titled "Wisdom of Parenting" to disseminate useful information on effective parenting and the ways to promote resilience in children. The animations were broadcast in public transportation systems and promoted through DVD distribution. Apart from promoting positive messages, the short videos also provided clear information on the various channels and hotlines from which help could be sought. SWD has uploaded the short videos produced in recent years onto YouTube for viewing by the general public. Since 2011-12, the Committee on the Promotion of Civic Education (CPCE) has adopted the theme of "Cherish yourself and your family, Love Hong Kong and your country", which encourages members of the community to develop a positive and resilient attitude to life and the perseverance to pursue one's goals in life. CPCE has also included "passion for life" in the content of the promotional theme since 2012-13.

(4) Since 2005, SWD has been subventing the Suicide Crisis Intervention Centre (SCIC) of the Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong to provide different dedicated services including outreaching, crisis intervention, intensive counselling services, etc. to persons beset with suicidal problems. The SCIC targets at young people by implementing the cyber services of regular blog search to identify blog authors with suicidal thoughts in recent years. Under the Web-engagement Service, forums, email-boxes and chat-rooms have been set up to reach out to internet users with suicidal ideation to facilitate their ventilation of negative emotion, and help them gain emotional support and deter their ideations of committing suicide. Besides, case stories and videos are uploaded to promote positive life attitude and information on related social services was provided to the service users. In the light of the service demand, SWD has increased the subvention for SCIC since 2014-15 and the Web-engagement Service will be regularised and incorporated into SCIC's regular service starting from 2016-17.

     Besides, SWD subvents the Hong Kong Federation Youth Group in setting up the "Hotline Service for Youth at Risk" for young people aged six to 24, with the objective of providing a safety net to assist them in facing different crises during their development and to strengthen their problem solving skills. Through telephone contact, the hotline helps stabilise the emotion of young people facing crisis (especially youngsters with risk of suicide), and counselling and referral services will also be provided to them.  

(5) With reference to the experience of adopting community-based interventions in other countries, SWD commissioned, in 2011, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of the University of Hong Kong to implement a pilot project on community-based prevention of youth suicide in North District with a view to facilitating the formulation of effective measures for combating youth suicide. SWD is reviewing the pilot project with the consultancy team, and will examine if the good practices can be replicated in other districts with high suicidal risk so as to strengthen its efforts on prevention of children and youth suicide. SWD has all along been encouraging NGOs to make reference to overseas suicide prevention experience. For example, having regard to the popular use of internet service among young people and overseas experience, SWD subvents SCIC to implement the Web-engagement Service for early identification of youth with suicidal ideation.  

(6) EDB is committed to enhancing the capability of teachers and school personnel to understand, identify early and support students with emotional distress. EDB has issued an "eBook on Student Suicide for Schools: Early Detection, Intervention and Postvention" (2011). The School Administration Guide also includes a guideline entitled "How can schools help students with mental health problems?". EDB recommends schools to adopt a Three-tier Support Model to provide different levels of detection and support by teachers, guidance personnel and specialised professionals respectively who, with close communication with parents, help students who have emotional distress and are possibly at risk of committing suicide.

     Every year, EDB provides structured training to teachers, including "Certificate Courses on Student Guidance and Discipline for Teachers of Primary and Secondary Schools" and 120-hour "Effective Strategies for Managing Students' Challenging Behaviour : A Psychological Approach". A territory-wide thematic seminar on "Supporting Students with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties" is organised annually for primary and secondary schools. Professionals like psychiatrists, educational psychologists, school social workers, etc. are invited to share their experience in identifying and supporting these students. In addition, from the 2011/12 to 2014/15 school years, EDB collaborated with the Hospital Authority to organise a number of regional seminars on various mental health topics for teachers / guidance personnel in order to enhance their awareness of students with emotional distress and promote early identification of students in need and provide appropriate support.

     To support parents, the 65 Integrated Family Service Centres operated by SWD or welfare NGOs, 22 Family Life Education Units and the two Integrated Services Centres in the territory have been organising programmes such as seminars, talks, groups and exhibitions, etc. on family life education, the contents of which include advice to parents on early identification of children's emotional problems and suicidal thoughts and seeking timely intervention from relevant welfare service units if in need. Moreover, school social workers work closely with school disciplinary / guidance teachers and other welfare service units / stakeholders in the community through organising different activities to enhance parents' understanding of suicide problems so as to facilitate their early identification of suicidal symptoms and render appropriate assistance to the students. EDB publicises information from time to time through channels such as the "e-Bulletin" and the "Guidance and Discipline Newsletter", etc. to remind parents and the public to help their children face difficulties.

Ends/Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Issued at HKT 16:56