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The Importance of Supporting Youth Mental Health in Hong Kong

In recent years, Hong Kong has witnessed a concerning rise in teenage suicide cases, highlighting the urgent need for increased support and intervention in youth mental health. The Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has reported a doubling of suicide cases, including attempts, among individuals under the age of 18 or tertiary students in the past three months alone. This alarming trend has prompted five NGOs - Caritas Hong Kong, the Boys' & Girls' Clubs Association of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, Hong Kong Children and Youth Services, and St. James' Settlement - to join forces and call for immediate action.

an image of a head depicting mental health struggles

The Worrying Surge in Youth Suicides

According to Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, the director of the HKU Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, the recent surge in youth suicides is deeply concerning. Factors such as school-related pressure and family issues have emerged as familiar sources of distress among young individuals who tragically take their own lives. However, it is essential to note that the causes of these suicides are rarely singular, with multiple factors often co-existing and exacerbating each other's impact. The resumption of in-person classes after years of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with broader societal changes, has also had a detrimental effect on the mental well-being of students. Adjusting to the so-called "new normal" has proven challenging for many as they grapple with changes in their friendships, social networks, and the departure of beloved teachers from schools. These obstacles create barriers that hinder their ability to seek help and support.

NGOs Advocating for Support and Intervention

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the five NGOs involved in the press conference have called for concerted efforts from schools, parents, and the wider community to provide much-needed mental health support for young individuals. It is crucial to create an environment where students feel safe and comfortable seeking help without fear of judgment or stigma.

The Role of Schools in Supporting Youth Mental Health

Schools play a pivotal role in nurturing the well-being of their students. They are encouraged to prioritize mental health support by implementing comprehensive programs and initiatives. This can include incorporating mental health courses into the curriculum, teaching students how to support one another, and providing tools for assessing and managing exam-related stress. By addressing mental health concerns holistically, schools can create a supportive environment that promotes the overall well-being of their students.

The Importance of Parental Involvement

Parents also have a crucial role to play in supporting their children's mental health. It is essential for parents to actively engage in open and honest conversations with their children, ensuring that they feel heard, understood, and supported. By maintaining a solid line of communication, parents can better identify warning signs of distress, such as behavioural changes, mood swings, or unusual behaviour on social media. Timely intervention and access to professional care can make a significant difference in preventing youth suicides.

Recognizing Warning Signs and Providing Timely Care

Both parents and the broader community should pay close attention to warning signs that indicate a young person may be at risk. These signs can include sudden behavioural changes, increased mood swings, social withdrawal, or expressions of hopelessness. By being vigilant and proactive, individuals can provide the necessary care and support to those in need.

Physical Indicators:

1. Persistent fatigue or low energy levels

2. Frequent headaches or stomachaches without any underlying medical cause

3. Significant changes in appetite or weight (either increase or decrease)

4. Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or excessive sleeping

Behavioural Indicators:

1. Persistent sadness, irritability, or frequent mood swings

2. Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed

3. Social withdrawal or isolation from friends and family

4. Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or experiencing cognitive difficulties

5. Excessive feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or self-blame

6. Thoughts or discussions about death or suicide

7. Increased sensitivity to rejection or criticism

8. Decline in academic performance or motivation

9. Engaging in risky behaviours, such as substance abuse or self-harm

A boy lying on his arms holding a sign saying help

It's important to note that these signs and symptoms may vary among individuals, and the presence of one or more indicators does not necessarily confirm a diagnosis of depression. If you suspect that a teenager may be experiencing depression, it is essential to seek professional help from a healthcare provider or mental health professional who can conduct a thorough evaluation and provide appropriate support and treatment.

Addressing the Underlying Causes

While immediate support and intervention are crucial, it is also essential to address the underlying causes contributing to the rise in youth suicides. The transition from online to in-person learning has posed significant challenges for many students. Academic pressure, intensified by the desire to catch up on lost progress during the pandemic, has created a highly competitive environment in some schools. This pressure can lead to increased distress and feelings of inadequacy among students.

Fostering a Healthy Learning Environment

To alleviate academic pressure, schools should adopt a balanced approach that prioritizes the overall well-being of students. Reducing excessive homework burdens and promoting a healthy work-life balance can provide a more supportive learning environment. Schools and parents alike must understand that each student has unique needs and capabilities. Emphasizing individual growth and progress rather than solely focusing on academic achievements can help reduce stress and foster a healthier mindset among young individuals.

Encouraging Self-Awareness and Help-Seeking Behavior

In addition to external support, it is vital to foster self-awareness among students, empowering them to recognize and address their own emotional and mental health needs. By promoting a culture of open communication and destigmatizing help-seeking behaviour, young individuals will feel more comfortable reaching out for assistance when needed. Encouraging peer support and educating students on the resources available to them can also contribute to a more resilient and supportive youth community.

Benefits of Self-Awareness and Help-Seeking:

Developing self-awareness allows teenagers to recognize their emotions, thoughts, and behaviours more accurately. It helps them understand their strengths, limitations, and values, fostering a positive sense of self. When combined with help-seeking behaviour, teenagers are better equipped to manage stress, cope with challenges, and build resilience. Seeking help from trusted adults or professionals provides valuable support, guidance, and intervention that can prevent mental health issues from escalating.

Practical Tips for Parents and Caregivers:

  1. Foster an open and supportive environment: Encourage open communication, active listening, and non-judgmental conversations within the family.

  2. Educate teenagers about mental health: Provide age-appropriate information about mental well-being, common mental health conditions, and available resources.

  3. Teach self-care practices: Promote healthy lifestyle habits, including regular exercise, adequate sleep, balanced nutrition, and relaxation techniques.

  4. Teach problem-solving skills: Help teenagers develop effective problem-solving and decision-making skills to navigate challenges and stressors.

  5. Promote peer support: Encourage teenagers to build solid and supportive relationships with their peers, fostering a sense of belonging and social connection.

The Urgency for Collective Action

The rise in youth suicides is a pressing issue that demands a collective effort from all stakeholders. Schools, parents, NGOs, and the government must work hand in hand to develop comprehensive strategies that prioritize the mental well-being of young individuals. This includes allocating resources to support high-risk individuals and implementing preventive measures across the education system.

The Role of NGOs and Helplines

NGOs such as Caritas Hong Kong and the Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong have been instrumental in providing online emotional support services for young people. These platforms offer a safe space for individuals to express their concerns and seek assistance. Additionally, helplines have been established to cater specifically to youth experiencing suicidal ideation, ensuring that help is readily available when needed.

Government Support and Policy Changes

Support from the government is crucial in addressing the mental health needs of Hong Kong's youth. Increased funding should be allocated to mental health services and initiatives within the education system. Policy changes that prioritize mental health education and destigmatize help-seeking behaviour can create a more supportive and inclusive society.

Services for Teenagers in Hong Kong:

Youth Outreach:

Youth Outreach is a non-profit organization that provides counselling and support services to teenagers facing various challenges. They offer individual therapy, group therapy, and an all-night outreach service. Their team of qualified counsellors helps teenagers navigate issues such as mental health, substance abuse, family conflicts, and academic stress.

Contact Details:

Youth Outreach Jockey Club Building,

2 Holy Cross Path, Sai Wan Ho, Hong Kong

Tel: (852)2384 3531 / (852)2622 2890

24 Hours Hotline: 90881023

Open Up:

The Jockey Club Youth Emotional Health Online Support Platform "Open叏" provides a confidential and anonymous platform for teenagers to seek emotional support and guidance on issues caused by studies, family, peer relationships and other emotional distress. Their trained counsellors can be contacted at any time of the day or night via mobile phone through WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, SMS, or through their website.

Contact Details:

SMS & WhatsApp: (852) 9101 2012

Facebook & Instagram: hkopenup

Caritas Family Crisis Support Centre

The Caritas Family Crisis Support Centre is a 24-hour, one-stop service crisis centre aiming at providing support to individuals and families who are experiencing emotional distress.

Contact Details:

50 Kwun Tong Road, Kowloon Tel:2383 2122 24 Hours Emergency Hotline: 18288

The rise in youth suicides in Hong Kong is a deeply concerning issue that requires immediate attention and intervention. Schools, parents, NGOs, and the government must come together to prioritize the mental well-being of young individuals. By creating a supportive and nurturing environment, fostering self-awareness, and addressing the underlying causes contributing to distress, we can work towards a future where youth mental health is safeguarded and every young person feels valued, supported, and empowered to seek help when needed.

Let us join forces to ensure a brighter and more resilient future for Hong Kong's youth.


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