In recent years, several tragedies involving student suicide have shaken Hong Kong at the beginning of a school year.
Some suspected the victims chose to end their lives rather than deal with the pressures of schoolwork.
It quickly became clear that parents, teachers and policymakers had to do something to tackle the problem, so that students can enjoy learning in a stress-free environment.
Student suicides have peaked in September, the start of the school year, over the past 10 years, according to government figures.
A survey of more than 1,000 students showed 35 percent had suffered from back-to-school anxiety and apprehension, 25 percent did not know how to handle stress and an alarming 24 percent had thought of killing themselves at some point.
It is true that under our education system, our children — from a five-year-old kindergartener to a 20-year-old university student — face a lot of stress.
Daily schoolwork and exams are all sources of stress, not to mention after-class private tutorials.
All-nighters before exams are common among students.
It has become clear that chronic school-related stress and lack of sleep are taking their toll on our children’s mental and physical health.
Having said that, I strongly urge the Education Bureau to adjust the school curriculum and review the criteria for assessing students’ performance in order to reduce the sources of stress.
More importantly, the administration should issue guidelines to schools on how to help their students manage stress and where to seek professional help.
On the other hand, parents should always keep an eye out for any signs that their children might be suffering from school-related stress such as depression, temper outbursts, sudden weight loss, insomnia, loss of appetite, edginess and even suicidal tendencies.
If they notice any of these signs, they should seek help immediately and take their children to a therapist or counselor.
In the meantime, the support of schools and the community is also instrumental in helping our children fight stress.
The government should allocate more resources to help schools hire at least one nurse and one psychiatrist.
It’s about time professionals were engaged to prevent student suicides from happening again.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 9.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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