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Following is a question by the Hon Abraham Shek and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council on November 6:
It has been reported that the Suicide Prevention Services (SPS), which provides dedicated services specifically for suicide prevention, received in 2012-2013 more than 34 000 calls for assistance, a record high in recent three years. Meanwhile, the media have recently reported suicide cases from time to time, in which some of the victims were students still at school. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether it has compared the suicide rate of Hong Kong with those of international cities such as New York, London and Tokyo; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) if it has compiled statistics on whether the victims in the suicide cases (including both fatal and attempted cases) in the past three years had requested for assistance from SPS or other social welfare agencies before committing suicide, and made use of such data as the basis for assessing the effectiveness of suicide prevention efforts or the need to introduce improvement to such efforts; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(c) given that some research results have indicated that study pressure and relationship problems are two main causes of youth suicide, whether the authorities have any new appropriate measures to prevent youths from committing suicide for such causes; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(d) given that the Social Welfare Department (SWD) commissioned the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of the University of Hong Kong in July 2011 to implement a three-year pilot project on community-based intervention to suicide targeted mainly at youths aged 15 to 24, whether SWD has conducted an interim review of the effectiveness of the project; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
My reply to the Hon Abraham Shek’s question is as follows:
(a) According to the latest information provided by the Census and Statistics Department (C&SD), the numbers of known suicide deaths and the crude suicide death rates in Hong Kong in the last three years, with breakdown by age groups, are provided at the Appendix.
We are given to understand that the World Health Organization compiles country-based figures of suicide rates from member states at a five-year interval and that suicide rates of individual cities are unavailable.
(b) Currently, there are three non-governmental organisations (NGOs) providing suicide prevention hotline services (telephone numbers: 2382 0000 (Suicide Prevention Services 24-hour Suicide Prevention Hotline), 2896 0000 (The Samaritans 24-hour telephone hotline) and 2389 2222 (The Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong 24-hour hotline)) on a self-financing basis. The hotline services help their clients get rid of suicidal thoughts and encourage them to accept referrals to appropriate services, including the subvented Suicide Crisis Intervention Centre (SCIC) of the Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong which provides in-depth counselling services for clients and helps them regain the will to live on. The Social Welfare Department (SWD) does not have statistics on whether the subjects of suicide cases had sought assistance from the hotline services.
(c) Suicide is a complicated issue caused by multi-faceted factors including biological, social and psychological factors that interact with one another. Each case has its uniqueness.
SWD launched the Pilot Project on Child Fatality Review in February 2008 to identify the relevant trend and promote inter-disciplinary and inter-agency co-operation to prevent avoidable child death cases. The Administration established a standing Child Fatality Review Panel (Review Panel) in 2011. The Review Panel examined the deaths of 238 children aged below 18 who died in 2008 and 2009, of which 26 cases were suicide cases. The common reasons for child suicide cases were schooling problems, family relationship problems and relationship problems involving boyfriends/ girlfriends.
The Government has been taking a multi-pronged approach in tackling the youth suicide problem. On the welfare front, under the “child-centred, family-focused and community-based” direction, SWD delivers preventive, supportive and remedial family services through the 65 Integrated Family Service Centres (IFSCs). Family life education services are provided through the IFSCs, the 22 Family Life Education Units and 2 Integrated Services Centres. Parent education is also promoted to help parents better understand the developmental needs of their children, detect any problems faced by their children and seek help from relevant service units where necessary.
SWD has been implementing the “one school social worker for each secondary school” scheme to provide support and guidance to students. SWD also subvents Integrated Children and Youth Services Centres and Outreaching Social Work Teams to provide young people with socialisation programmes and holistic supportive services at the neighbourhood level.
Moreover, SWD has commissioned three NGOs to each launch a three-year pilot cyber youth outreaching projects since August 2011. Young people who are assessed to be in need of follow-up services will be referred to social services.
SWD also subvents the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups to operate the “Youthline” (telephone number: 2777 8899) which offers immediate counselling to youth-at-risk through telephone contacts. To meet the needs of people with suicidal tendency, SWD provides crisis intervention and intensive counselling services through subventing SCIC of the Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong.
SWD also provides training for frontline staff, such as social workers and medical staff, to enhance their understanding of suicide problems so as to facilitate early identification of young people with suicidal ideations and make referrals for follow-up services as appropriate.
On school curriculum, the curriculum framework of each key learning area as well as moral and civic education covers topics such as developmental changes, stress management and healthy lifestyles with a view to enhancing students’ resilience to adversity. The Education Bureau (EDB) has also actively implemented various developmental programmes, such as the “Understanding Adolescent Project” in primary schools and the “Enhanced Smart Teen Project” in secondary schools. Participating schools may formulate implementation plans with their students to pursue the training objectives of the programmes so as to transmit positive messages such as healthy lifestyle, life education and serving others.
Moreover, EDB provides schools with Educational Psychology Service. Such service is being extended progressively and is expected to cover all public primary and secondary schools by the 2016-17 school year. The Educational Psychology Service not only provides timely counselling for needy students by multi-disciplinary teams (comprising discipline teachers, school social workers/ counsellors, class/ subject teachers and educational psychologists), but also organises a variety of professional training programmes for teachers through cross-sector collaboration with different organisations and provides teaching resources, guidelines and resource packages for schools, so as to deepen teachers’ understanding of the relevant topics and help them identify and assist students with suicidal tendency.
The Student Health Service Centres (SHSCs) of the Department of Health (DH) provide health assessment for primary and secondary students including psychosocial health and behavioural questionnaire assessment. Students with emotional or behavioural problems or even suicidal tendency will be referred to the Hospital Authority (HA), SWD or welfare organisations for follow-up. SHSCs also organise talks on psychosocial and mental health from time to time, with information on psychosocial health disseminated through pamphlets and uploaded onto the Student Health Service website. Under the Adolescent Health Programme of the Student Health Service, a multi-disciplinary team of doctors, nurses, dieticians, social workers and clinical psychologists pays visits to secondary schools to help students establish positive attitude and thinking through basic life skills training and topical programmes. Besides, HA provides relevant specialist services to youths with suicidal tendency. The child and adolescent psychiatric service conducts comprehensive suicidal risk assessments for needy cases and arranges various follow-up services.
(d) With funding support from the Lotteries Fund, SWD commissioned the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of the University of Hong Kong (the Research Centre) to implement a three-year pilot project on community-based prevention of youth suicide (the pilot project) in 2011, mainly targeting at youths aged 15 to 24 living in the North District. By conducting research and running a series of targeted activities on a trial basis, the pilot project aims to reduce cases of suicide and self-harm behaviour in the community. The pilot project analyses information and data obtained from different sources and identifies areas and clusters with higher suicide risks through the application of a Geographic Information System with a view to deriving annual statistics of suicide cases and identifying suicide hot spots in the district and thereby enhancing the preventive work.
The Research Centre has already submitted the first progress report to SWD and the Lotteries Fund Advisory Committee, and the pilot project is progressing well. A number of community-based interventions have been launched to provide counselling service for persons who have attempted suicide as well as their family members. A questionnaire survey at the community level has also been conducted to examine the protective and risk factors for youth suicide. The second progress report is nearing completion. The pilot project has effectively set up community-based collaboration platforms to enhance public awareness of suicide prevention and has gained support from various Government departments, NGOs and community groups. The Administration will continue to liaise closely with the research team and follow up on the outcome of the pilot project.