My heart just aches whenever I hear news of students taking their own lives.
According to the third report published earlier this year by the Review Panel of the Pilot Project on Child Fatality Review, between 2012 and 2013, a total of 206 child deaths were reported to the Coroner’s Court.
And among the 75 deaths by unnatural causes, 20 of them were caused by suicides, with the youngest victim aged only 11.
Among these 20 suicide cases, 14 victims had shown suicidal signs such as emotional volatility and violent behavior before they ended their own lives.
The report concluded that many of these victims could actually have been prevented from killing themselves if their teachers or parents had been able to recognize their emotional problems sooner and seek professional help immediately.
In fact, I cannot agree more with the conclusion of the report. I believe the key to preventing child and teen suicides is early detection and immediate intervention.
And both teachers and parents can indeed play an important role in preventing tragedy by constantly monitoring the psychological state of their students and children, particularly during the first few weeks of the new school year and seeking immediate help from psychiatric professionals if need be.
In the meantime, the government must devise solid plans and divert extra resources to support our schools and parents in their fight against student suicides.
For example, over the years I have been calling upon the government to implement the so-called one-school-one-nurse policy in our schools, under which there would be at least one registered psychiatric nurse (RPN) stationed in every primary and secondary school across our city.
The RPN in our schools would assume a leading role in identifying high-risk cases and providing professional assessment and support. And if necessary, the RPN can also refer students who need help to public mental health clinics run by the Hospital Authority (HA).
Once teachers or parents have noticed any warning sign of suicide among students, they can immediately refer the case to the RPN in their schools, who can then intervene with them as soon as possible and provide proper and timely help before tragedy strikes.
On the other hand, the RPN can also offer teachers and parents professional advice on how to meet the emotional needs of students and how to guide those who are struggling with emotional problems or stress-related depression.
I learned that the Food and Health Bureau, the Education Bureau as well as the Social Welfare Department jointly launched the Student Mental Health Support Pilot Scheme last year, under which the HA sent two RPNs to each of the nine local schools that volunteered to take part in the scheme.
And in April this year, the government further enhanced the scheme by sending an extra two senior RPNs to seven secondary and one primary schools.
I welcome the government initiatives, but I also feel compelled to emphasize that in order to make sure the scheme will remain effective, viable and sustainable, the government must divert more manpower and resources into supporting it.
On the other hand, since the introduction of the HKDSE (Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education), the average age of university freshmen in our city has dropped, calling into question their ability to manage study-related stress.
I suggest that the one-school-one-nurse policy be extended to our tertiary institutions as well, under which university students can seek help from the RPNs directly through smartphone apps and social media.
Apart from offering help and therapy, the government should also provide sufficient support for teachers and parents and equip them with the necessary know-how so that they can promote a positive outlook on life among our teenagers and help them build resilience.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 20
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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