Suicide prevention needs more awareness: observers

Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Issue 1350, Page 2 & 3
Word count: 1542
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung & Alexandra Lages

The suicide death rate in Macau may be low when compared to other neighbouring regions, but the series of suicide incidents reported so far this year have drawn the concern of a number of observers, who are calling for cooperation from the government, schools, local civilians as well as the media.

Between February and June, five separate incidents of suicide within Macau’s security forces took place. In addition, a 17-year-old boy in April jumped from height because of school related stress. A 13-year-old girl also leaped from 28th floor on Monday allegedly because of some school-related problems as well.

Back in 2008 a 15-year-old girl also committed suicide as she reportedly felt unhappy in her life.

According to information from the Social Welfare Bureau (IAS), it received and handled 28 suicide cases in 2010, and 5 between January and March this year.

Coordinator of the social work program at the Macau Polytechnic Institute (IPM), Samson Kwan Chi Fai, told the Macau Daily Times yesterday he felt that there was an increase in suicide incidents in the territory since March this year.

Although there is no scientific proof that people’s suicidal tendency may intensify in a certain period of a year, it was found that during special festivals people who already have an unstable psychological state may feel even more negative, thus triggering more suicides, Kwan said.

The scholar, who is specialised in suicidology, said he believed the primary source of pressure on students comes from their studies, and the month of June is when they receive their school results.

The reported cases within the security forces, on the other hand, may be partly a result of the so-called copycat effect, he stated.

Kwan pointed out that Macau generally reports 40 to 60 suicide incidents per year. If the suicide death rate exceeds 13 per 100,000 people, special attention ought to be paid because the situation is then deemed “not very satisfactory”.

From his own calculations based on the official statistics, Kwan found that the suicide death rate in Macau remained below 13 between 2000 and 2007 (Since suicide statistics from 2008 are not available from the government).

However, even if female suicide incidents are excluded from the calculation, the rate among males continued to exceed 13 since year 2000.

The highest suicide death rate among males was reported at 20.3 in 2004, but since the rate among females was significantly lower, the overall figure was 15.8 per 100,000 people – beyond the standard limit of 13, according to Kwan.

In 2007, the combined suicide death rate was 9.1, but the rates of males and females were respectively 14 and 4.

Nevertheless, the situation in Macau will only be regarded as ‘serious’ when the figure hits over 20 suicide deaths per 100,000 people, the scholar explained.

Kwan attributed the great differences between males and females to the traditional gender roles.

“Females tend to talk with others about their problems and their lives could more likely be [timely] saved if they are drug overdosed or cut their wrists. On the contrary, males seldom talk to others when they’re sad and they usually choose more ‘fatal methods’ such as leaping from height,” he told the MDTimes.

Hence, Kwan said people should pay more attention to the ‘signals’ their friends or family members possibly send.

“People need to be more alert about sudden or unusual changes in their friends or family members’ behaviours or emotions. For example, amongst the stronger signals is giving away things they used to treasure a lot to others or to visiting friends they haven’t meet for a long time, and offering them gifts or money,” he said.

On the other hand, the scholar believes that the media also have a role to play in helping people who have a suicidal tendency.

“Media should adopt a low-key approach when reporting suicide cases, meaning that they should not go into too much detail especially about how the person committed suicide,” he pointed out.

“Besides, positive stories can be published at the same time. Research showed that over-reporting of suicide incidents would intensify the copycat effect. It’s unnecessary to describe the ‘process’ and the news should not be published on the front page of a newspaper,” he added.

Ho Sio Kam, a lawmaker and vice-principal of a local school, agreed with Kwan. “The media also have the responsibility to report more positive stories and spread positive messages in society, such as about how some people overcame adversity or unfortunate events and continued to live with courage and strength.”

Ho said the issue deserves attention from the education sector. “Macau’s developing too fast and many things may not be able to follow the pace accordingly,” she told the MDTimes yesterday.

Over-protection

In face of the two student suicides in recent months, Ho said the capacity of young people to cope with stress and adversity is comparatively low nowadays, although they may face “increased pressure” from school, interpersonal relationships, family or during adolescence.

“More young people grew up in an overly protected environment because people choose to have fewer children nowadays. There are also parents who both have to work and therefore are not aware of what their children really need. I think children are in greater need of attention and care than of material things,” she said.

She also said that the Internet has made interactions between people “alienated”.

Furthermore, the vice-principal has admitted that the teacher-student relationships have weakened and need to be reinforced.

“The constant reforms in the educational system have made teachers focus primarily on students’ academic performances or competition results,” she pointed out.

Ho suggested the government invest more resources into the community and hold more extracurricular activities or seminars to strengthen young people’s capability to overcome difficulties.

The Moral Centre of the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau, she said, can strengthen support to schools in face of the suicide incidents and help implement more specific moral education for the youths.

Fully occupied work wise

Secretary-general of Caritas Paul Pun Chi Meng told the MDTimes Macau is seeing an increasing number of people committing suicide which he believes is because “people are too busy and don’t lead a normal life”.

In addition, Pun said people tend “not to acknowledge the achievements of others”, and it may lead to depression.

“People feel they are not being rewarded for their efforts and they feel they don’t belong to this society,” he bemoaned.

Caritas runs the city’s only suicide hotline and Pun said there are more people showing emotional problems.

“Some people committed suicide not because they were inclined to, but because they felt upset and did that all of a sudden,” he warned.

With regard to the suicides among students, Pun also suggested study stress could be one of the reasons.

“Even if they’re already performing very well, they still push themselves very hard,” he said, adding that students may “lose control of themselves” eventually.

According to the Caritas chief, suicide among teenagers is increasing nowadays. He urged locals to show more caring to their friends, colleagues and family members.

The government and social organisations also have the responsibility to promote a positive view on life and to increase efforts at work, he added.

“Macau is a very small city. If everybody pays more attention to each other, we will be able to help people cope with their problems,” he pointed out.

Measures needed

Director of the University of Macau’s Educational Research Centre, Teresa Vong Sou Kuan, said the lack of assistance for the youths in society, besides stress from school, could drive students to commit suicide.

“At the age of 13 to 15, youngsters experience a lot of psychological changes. They have different perceptions of the world and they face peer pressure,” Vong told the MDTimes.

“What is happening now in Macau is that there is not sufficient support for the youths’ psychological, emotional and academic development,” she explained.

Meanwhile, Vong has urged the government to lower the student number per class to around 25.

“It’s surprising how some of the schools in Macau have a very large student size of 2,000 in one campus. It may generate a lot of relational stress, which is one of the major causes for depression and emotional problems,” she said.

Although every local school has its own social workers, Vong said they provide services to students after school.

“Nowadays people work separately. Social workers work without informing the teachers and vice-versa. All of us need to pay attention to this problem [suicidal behaviour] and give the youths sufficient support,” she pointed out.

In response to the MDTimes’ inquiry yesterday, the Social Welfare Bureau has disclosed that it plans to increase staffing of the suicide and crisis hotline especially during night time.

The bureau is also going to implement counselling services for people facing “high risk of suicide” and individual follow-up services in a bid to minimise the occurrence of tragedy.

Moreover, the bureau said it will enhance the cooperative mechanism of various social services organisations’ counselling services and promote a positive view of life in the public.

It also stressed that the government will continue to monitor the data of suicide incidents in Macau and meet with related social institutes in order to discuss proper countermeasures.

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