Prevention is the Cure When It Comes to Suicide

Prevention is the Cure When It Comes to Suicide


Two primary school participants (at sides) reflecting to their mother and Prof. Yip what they learned in the problem-solving skills workshop

Suicide is a worry in any society, but there is a perennial problem in addressing it: how do you intervene and stop it from happening?

To Professor Paul Yip, Director of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, trying to identify potential suicides is near-impossible. But the risk can be reduced through a public health approach that raises awareness across society as a whole and minimises exposure to different kinds of risk factors.

The Centre has been involved in identifying problem areas and groups, lobbying to restrict access to substances used in suicide attempts such as charcoal, and producing a website, ''Little Prince is Depressed'', that explains suicide risks to secondary school students.

More recently, they have taken their efforts to primary schools to address problems of self-esteem, which can become a suicide risk factor as children get older. Prevention measures are urgently needed because every year three to five Hong Kong students commit suicide.

''These children [who commit suicide] don't have good coping skills,'' Professor Yip says. ''Everyone, you and me, could learn how to cope better. It doesn't work if you say, you shouldn't kill yourself. You need to understand the problems, the low self-esteem, the low problem-solving skills. It's important to go back to these basics and take a public health approach.''

In March 2011 the Centre started working at a Tin Shui Wai school with Primary 4 students at-risk, such as those from single-parent homes or with learning or behavioural problems. They were paired with HKU students and staff who acted as mentors and kept regular phone contact with the children and took them on outings. The children's parents and teachers also received training on helping the children to cope.

The project ran for nine months and at the end, 25 students who had met the requirement of the program, good attendance records and showed improved relationships with their parents were rewarded with a trip to Disneyland, together with three family members, extending the whole-family approach. The project with the trip was financed through private donations. The support from Mr and Mrs Lawrence Fung, Mr and Mrs Stephen Tsang and Disneyland Inc are gratefully acknowledged for their generosity and care for our young people.

The headmaster of the school reported that both behaviour and academic results had improved. He has asked the Centre to continue the program although Professor Yip said they had limited resources to do this and hope some other NGOs can take up the task.

''Our job is to train the trainer and share expertise and knowledge so the community can carry the torch. We try to find out what methods are effective and we collect data and evidence to back that up,'' he says. The Centre becomes a knowledge hub and an incubator for generating evidence-based practice suicide prevention programs.

Hopefully, the results will contribute to a wider goal of promoting mental health in the community and reducing suicide risks.

Primary school participants (front) showing their artworks at the end of the orientation day with their mentors (back)