New suicide incident: ‘Alarm sounding’ at security forces

Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Issue 1343, Page 3
Word count: 803
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The Public Security Police (PSP) officer who allegedly killed himself on Sunday takes the total to five incidents of suicide within Macau’s security forces this year. A local scholar specialised in suicidology described the situation as worrying and warned that more tragedies may occur if actions are not taken now.

Coordinator of the social work program at the Macau Polytechnic Institute (IPM), Samson Kwan Chi Fai, told the Macau Daily Times yesterday that within a short period of time five suicide incidents “suddenly” took place within a certain group, “the situation therefore doesn’t need to be demonstrated by any data and the alarm is already sounding”.

He stressed that if nothing is done now or if the situation isn’t deemed as a problem, “then it’s already a problem in itself”.

The 36 year old PSP officer was off duty on Sunday when he decided to allegedly end his life by jumping from the 24th floor in a hotel in ZAPE.

The Judiciary Police spokesperson told the MDTimes yesterday the case is now being probed by the criminal investigation department which is still trying to ascertain the reasons for the officer’s action.

On February 24, the body of a police officer in his thirties from the immigration department was found floating in the reservoir; on March 14, a traffic police officer in his twenties was saved from burning charcoal at home; on March 22, another police officer in his twenties lost his life by also burning charcoal at home; and on April 21, a 42 year old customs officer shot himself at his father’s workplace.

“Many studies have shown that disciplined forces, no matter whether police or military troops, are a high or semi-high risk group because of the mindset that they must have to appear strong,” Kwan pointed out.

“They don’t dare tell their colleagues when they encounter problems because policing is a very masculine job. The teasing from their colleagues may be very insulting for them,” he added.

In addition, the scholar said “from my observation many police officers have a gambling habit as in Hong Kong. Although there is no study or data, I believe that as a gambling city the possibility that [public security personnel in Macau] take part in gambling in their spare time will not be low”.

Gambling itself may not be a significant factor, according to Kwan, but the resulting debts could become one of the reasons that drive people to commit suicide.

Modelling effect

The scholar attributed the “frequent” occurrence of this year’s suicide cases to the so-called copycat effect, a term used in the field of psychology.

“For example about a decade ago not many people knew that burning charcoal inside a closed area could be a way to commit suicide, but in recent years it has become a very commonly used method even surpassing jumping from a height and taking drugs. The modelling effect is very notable,” Kwan told the MDTimes.

“I certainly hope I won’t see it happen again but this possibility cannot be ruled out either,” he said.

Watching their work partners or colleagues end their lives one by one in just five months is likely having negative impacts on existing personnel as well, according to the IPM scholar.

“Discipline forces emphasise team spirit. If officers continue to see their colleagues appear weak and commit suicide, they may feel bad about themselves and their own image,” Kwan said.

In order to prevent further tragedies, he suggested the Academy of Public Security Forces indoctrinate the trainees that “although they need to appear strong when they’re on duty, it doesn’t mean that they have to stay like that 24 hours a day, 365 days a year”.

“It’s impossible unless he/she is not a human being,” he added.

“Within the forces a subculture is important that officers don’t tease their co-workers who show a weak side. They need to understand that it’s normal to feel the pressure and that there are many ways to solve problems,” he added.

A spokesman of the Office for the Secretary of Security Sam Chong Nin told the MDTimes yesterday that the relative departments will assess the five incidents with experts in the hope to find out the reasons behind the alleged suicides, and whether there was anything common between them, and respond with “more specific measures”.

Earlier this year training began for chief police personnel to teach them how to notice changes in the psychological state of their colleagues and a series of workshops have been arranged to discuss dealing with stress and seeking help.

Sam said the office is reviewing these initiatives. “We feel regret that in spite of our stepping up the measures, incidents still occurred. We’ll try to find out if more effort is needed or whether certain parts of the work weren’t completed well enough.”

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