According to our latest data, there were 845 suicides in 2014. The corresponding suicide rate was 12.3 per 100,000 persons. Although this number was slightly lower than that observed in 2013, the suicide rates in Hong Kong have been holding steady in the range of 12-14 per 100,000 persons over the past five years.
The CSRP continues to offer statistics by age-groups, gender, and methods on its website, but now with a much faster and more interactive data retrieval process than previously. The friendly user interface allows users to modify the period of data requested by directly moving the cursor across the time axis in the graphical representation on the webpage. Data on self-harm will be available on our website in 2016.
Suicide Prevention Efforts
Suicides among youth have made local headlines again and again in 2015 and caused great concern in our society. Our future generation faces challenges that are unique in this present time. The CSRP recognizes that these challenges warrant special attention, and has put its focus of prevention efforts with youth in 2015.
Seeking help in time is critical in suicide prevention, yet many at risk, especially youth, are often unaware of the assistance available or reluctant to get it even when there is a need. To enhance awareness of the importance of timely intervention, the CSRP promoted “Reaching Out & Inspiring Lives” on the World Suicide Prevention Day last year. Two youths and their social workers shared their positive experiences with online outreach services targeted at young people.
Cross-sectoral support has always been important in CSRP’s efforts for suicide prevention. We are happy to have gained immense support from our partners in the community, such as those from the media, Hong Kong Police Force, Fire Service Department, and Hong Kong Poison Information Centre. We are also proud to report positive outcomes from this solid partnership in preventing further spread of newer suicide methods.
In response to numerous youth suicides in the North District in 2010, the Centre started a community collaboration project with the aim of strengthening suicide prevention efforts in the region. This project provided training for various parties that may come in contact with high-risk groups including teachers, various first responders and providers of social services. Training ranged from screening, emotional support, and referrals. This project ended in March 2015, and communities in the region have built stronger capacity for preventing suicides and self-harm.
Our role in monitoring suicide reporting in the media has grown in the past few years due to fast growing online communication platforms. We continue to engage different traditional media outlets, to express our concerns over inappropriate ways of reporting on suicide news. Great improvement has been observed in the process. An updated set of media guidelines, namely, “Recommendation on Suicide Reporting and Online Information Dissemination for Media Professionals”, was published in 2015. As a revamp of the 2004 version, the new sets of guidelines reflected feedback collected from media professionals on the 2004 version and their suggestions on how media can further support suicide prevention. The new set also included guidelines for preparing coverage of suicide stories for online distribution.
Recognizing how fast information spreads online, we also engaged Internet search engines, such as Baidu Google, in designing suicide preventive strategies for internet users. This engagement was successful with both Baidu and Google agreeing to the removal of some of the pro-suicide pages hosted under their blogs, and instead list websites for crisis centres and other prevention services as top search results upon searching of suicide-related keywords.
Taking a Closer Look at the Poverty Issues in Hong Kong
Currently about one million residents live in poverty in Hong Kong; and a substantial amount of resource has been put into alleviation efforts. In pursuit of an in-depth understanding of poverty issues through rigorous research, the CSRP has undertaken a three-year study, the Determinants of Poverty and Potential Intervention to Alleviate Poverty in Hong Kong, with the Commission on Poverty. This study aims to closely examine the existing official indicators of poverty in Hong Kong and their interpretations, along with the trends, spatial distribution and the dynamics of poverty, as well as the barriers and needs of those who are living in poverty. The project completed half of its data collection to date and disseminated some of its preliminary research results to policy makers, academic researchers, social service providers and the general public in 2015.
Poverty Indicators – Behind the Scene
A general increasing or decreasing trend observed with the existing poverty indicators is often not enough to gauge the status of poverty problems in the city. To obtain a more comprehensive reading of the indicators, researchers on the team used decomposition analyses to estimate the proportion of changes in the indicators that are attributed to fluctuations in population structure. These findings were shared with policymakers at the Commission on Poverty Summit in 2015.
Sharing with the Communities
As one of the main knowledge exchange activities on the project in 2015, the team hosted the From Poverty Alleviation to Promoting Well-being Seminar Series in May. Main researchers on the project, Professor Paul YIP, Dr. Yi ZHANG, Dr. Qijin CHENG, and Dr. Shu-Sen CHANG presented their research findings related to poverty issues at the series. Professor Yip spoke about his reflection on income disparity and social mobility. Dr. Zhang presented on the effects of public rental housing on poverty. Meanwhile, Dr. Cheng and Dr. Chang shared their research findings on the psychological wellbeing of those who are in poverty. The series have facilitated greater discussions about current research on poverty issues and the gaps between sectors of research and services for those in need.
The CSRP is dedicated in translating its research findings into materials that are comprehendible to the general public. The team from the project published regularly in numerous newspapers, among which a series of five news articles on Hong Kong poverty problems in Mingpao was the most noteworthy in 2015.
The series was published in the period of October to December, and conveyed much insights on current poverty problems. For instance, the trend of poverty problem in 2009-2014 was found to be decreasing in scope but increasing in depth. Also, the 2014 poverty alleviation index is not effective in reflecting the real positive impacts brought by poverty alleviation policy of the government under the influence of an aging population and the changes in family structures. The detailed breakdown of impacts on different age groups is explained. We urged the need of focused and specific interventions for different target groups, in particular, improvement on remuneration of low-income workers.
Approaching the final stage of the project, we look forward to completion of data collection and analyses. We are excited about the dissemination of our findings and the impact these can have on public policy. During 2016, we will continue to do what we can to bring our findings to the attention of key policymakers, and to work collaboratively to help make Hong Kong a happier, healthier place for all.
School-based Mental Health Programmes
The Centre’s Education team had a remarkable year in 2015. With support from the Quality Education Fund (QEF), the web and school-based mental health promotion programme, “The Adventures of DoReMiFa”, was successfully rolled out among children in primary schools. Students of participating schools were found to have improved mental health indicators after receiving teachings in empathy, gratitude, emotional management, and interpersonal skills. The team produced manuals and e-lessons on various topics of mental health for students, teachers, and parents, and held a dissemination seminar to share its success stories with local schools and non-government organizations.
The QEF is also committed to strengthening evidence-based practice and establishing networks for the sharing of good practice. One of its projects with the CSRP, Thematic Network on Developing Students’ Positive Attitudes and Values, is a universal evidence-based mental health programme aimed at promoting holistic wellbeing among students. The project went through planning stage in 2015. So far the team has developed teaching plans and held an Executive Committee meeting in November 2015 to present the directions and plans for the project to various stakeholders including representatives from the Education Bureau and principals from different core schools. Stakeholders at the meeting gave positive feedback to the team and valuable suggestions for successful implementation of the project. We look forward to the implementation stage of the programme in 2016 and hope to continue to positively impact the mental health of our future generation.
Getting Creative with Teaching about Mental Health
Our team is committed to making learning about mental health a fun experience for students. This has led to incorporating movie clips, stories, art making, and interactive games in teaching material for 2016. The intended outcome is that learning be an engaging process that does not overwhelm students.
A new teaching style called “brain-based learning” will also undergo trial in the classrooms of primary schools. One example is “think-pair-share”, which facilitates teaching by grouping students in pairs and have them share their own experiences and feelings in different circumstances after reading a story. As in secondary schools, mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques and mindful yoga will be introduced in the student programme. Students are encouraged to stay in the present moment and to increase their awareness of one’s physical and psychological needs.
Community involvement can make a meaningful differences in the lives of those in need, and cross-sectoral partnership is powerful for mobilizing existing resources to make an impact. Project WeCan is a business-school partnership programme in which various business corporations provide human and financial resources for less-privileged students. The CSRP performed an evaluation on this project and saw that students participated in the programme had developed different kinds of skills and felt more hopeful about their futures. The evaluation showed the positive impacts of such programmes and suggested that more students could benefit from further corporate participation. We hope to support the development of new partnerships in the future.
The Angels of Education Team
Not only the participants benefited from our projects. Our staff also have had a great experience promoting mental health:
“The most unforgettable lesson is one of the positive psychology lessons on gratitude. I was surprised and touched to see special-education-needed kids show gratitude to their classmates, teachers and us. No matter how challenging the work is, it is worthy when I witness the change among students.”
“It was an impressive experience to see how powerful collaboration between different disciplines can be. I was amazed to see how seemingly unrelated business and education sectors could work jointly to empower the less-privileged students.”
“Most importantly, we get to know a school principal who truly loves and cares her students and treats them as if they were her sons and daughters. Her work and sharing inspired and encouraged me a lot.”
Happy 2016 friends and colleagues.
Time flies, it is 2016 already. Recently, we have been making plans to strengthen engagement with our stakeholders in the community. We have recreated our website to offer a more modern appearance, and easier and quicker access to information and resources. We are also excited to introduce regular e-newsletters as a channel to maintain regular and efficient communication with our friends and partners in the communuity.
Since the celebration of our 10th anniversary in 2012, the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention (CSRP) has undergone tremendous growth can capacity building in the past three years. In this first e-newsletter, we are proud to share with you our latest works, and encourage you to subscribe and share this email to keep informed of our upcoming plans, including a new website to examine social aspects of suicide prevention.
Our endeavor in surveillance of suicides and monitoring suicide prevention efforts in the community continues. Given the emergence of new channels for sharing news and information in this digital age, we put a strong focus on prevention efforts in the media, especially with online platforms. Most notable work includes the release of the newest “Recommendation on Suicide Reporting and Online Information Dissemination for Media Professionals” and our engagement with the largest search engine in Mainland China, Baidu, in designing effective preventive strategies of self-harm and suicides. It is encouraging to witness the improvement of media reporting by media professionals and the new initiatives of internet companies for suicide prevention.
Our education team’s dedication to the promotion and enhancement of mental health education among children and adolescents in schools is commendable. Our Centre has set up a Quality Thematic Network (QTN) supported by the Quality Education Fund to promote the wellbeing of our school children. We empathize with every case of youth suicide in recent years and see the unequivocal importance of investing in primary prevention as early as possible to help build mental resilience of our citizens.
Also, we have broadened our research for suicides and self-harm behaviours by examining the challenges brought to our citizens by various social issues, such as poverty, drug abuse and workplace injuries. This work is instrumental in designing proper and timely assistance for groups at risk.
2016 will be an exciting year to see continued progress in our work on a wider scale, including promoting wellbeing in our community. Let’s stay connected and make Hong Kong a kinder and happier place!
Paul Yip, Director of the HKJC Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention