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Students attribute suicide to academic and interpersonal issues, with 90% not seeking help from adults

Date: 13/12/2023

HKCS advocates for collaboration across sectors to alleviate students' concerns about seeking help.

A study revealed that over 70% of students cited 'academic issues' as the cause of suicide, followed by family and interpersonal relationships. Over the past year, the number of student suicides in Hong Kong has increased, raising concerns among the public. Hong Kong Christian Service (HKCS) currently provides school social work services to 20 secondary schools. In November 2023, HKCS conducted a 'Research on Student Suicide and Help-Seeking Attitudes', in which social workers conducted in-depth 'case interviews' with 150 secondary school students to understand their views on suicide and help-seeking situations. The results showed that multiple factors influence student suicide, and about 90% of students do not seek help from teachers, social workers, or family members when facing negative emotions. HKCS has also compiled data on school social work services over the past five school years, involving more than 12,000 students, and found that over 60% of students needed ‘emotional or mental health’ services after the COVID-19, which is 10% more than during the pandemic. Therefore, HKCS suggests strengthening public education to alleviate students’ concerns about seeking help from society, schools, and families and supporting schools, parents, and peers to improve early identification mechanisms.

Background of 'Case Interviews' 

  • The respondents were distributed from secondary 1 to secondary 6, with the most from secondary 3 (25.3%) and the least from secondary 6 (6.7%). 
  • 44.7% of them had received counselling from the school social work service.

Results and Analysis

1. Students’ Emotional Problems Worsen after the Pandemic 

  • According to the service data, students' service needs eased during the pandemic but rebounded after society returned to normal. 'Emotional or mental health', 'learning', and 'growth and development' are the most common social work support needs.

Top three issues for which students most need support from school social workers
School Year:18/1919/2020/2121/2222/23
Emotional or mental health65%46%53%66%63%
Learning58%58%59%59%62%
Growth and development49%48%42%59%52%


2. Academic Issues and Interpersonal Relationships are the Main Factors of Suicides 

  • According to the case interviews, 'academic issues' (72.7%), 'family relationships' (48.0%), and 'interpersonal relationships' (26.0%) were the most common reasons students believed led to suicide. HKCS stated that students’ reasons for choosing suicide are often multiple and interact with each other, making it difficult for them to seek help.

3. Students Fear Ridicule and Rarely Seek Help Proactively

  • According to the case interviews, when students faced negative emotions, over 40% chose 'gaming entertainment' (44.7%) or 'talking to friends' (40.7%), but only about 10% would 'seek help from teachers or social workers' (10.7%) or 'seek help from family' (10.0%).
  • In terms of students' willingness to seek help from different people, the top three were friends (6.8 points), social workers (5.6 points), and family members (4.9 points), while teachers (4.0 points) ranked lower than netizens (4.4 points).
  • The top three concerns students had about seeking help from others were 'worry about being exposed or ridiculed' (30.0%), 'fear of being criticised or questioned' (16.7%), and 'not being understood' (14.0%).

Case Sharing

1. Analysis of Suicide Cases: 

Ivy Chung, Service Supervisor, School Social Work Service, HKCS, said that HKCS had dealt with six suicide cases from 2020 to the present, and it was found that all six students suffered from long-term life difficulties, such as single-parent families, poverty or poor relationships with family members. Almost none of the students had sought help from social workers or teachers, and their good academic performance made them difficult to identify. In addition, half of the students had revealed their suicidal thoughts to their peers, and their peers were all affected to varying degrees.

2. Parent: 

Mr Wong, who has a daughter in secondary school, expressed his sadness over the continuing student suicides and said that his daughter went through many changes after entering adolescence, which made him feel helpless and depressed. Fortunately, he continued to learn how to get along with his daughter and realised that 'listening' and 'adapting mentality' were ways to communicate with her. He said, 'Parents' expectations of their children are very simple. We just hope they are healthy and happy and we can live happily together every day’.

3. School Principal: 

Principal Li Kin Man, Vice President of the Hong Kong Association For School Discipline And Counseling Teachers, said that the pandemic in the past few years has had a negative impact on students and reduced their opportunities to build relationships with teachers. He pointed out that many students are not good at expressing their needs when they return to school and are reluctant to seek help from others, making it difficult for teachers to identify students in need of mental health support. He suggested that the government should help teachers rebuild trusting relationships with students and identify students in need as early as possible. At the same time, he emphasised the need for schools to establish a comprehensive mental health support system, promote preventive, developmental and remedial work involving the whole school, and build a safety net with teachers and peers so that students in need feel more comfortable seeking help and teachers are able to provide support.

 

Recommendations

Based on the above results, HKCS advocates for cross-sector cooperation for the early identification of students in need and makes the following recommendations:

  1. The government should lead efforts across all sectors to strengthen public education to reduce the stigma associated with seeking help and alleviate students’ concerns about asking for help.
  2. Schools should establish a caring campus culture, creating opportunities for teachers to understand students, strengthen teacher-student connections, and build long-term relationships of trust.
  3. Support should be provided to parents to meet the growing needs of their children, and peer support should be encouraged to assist students in seeking help when needed.

 

Phoebe Chan, Service Supervisor, School Social Work Service, HKCS, said, 'In addition to continuously working closely with teachers and other professionals to identify and support high-risk students, we have implemented a series of "self-help" activities and measures in schools. We have created a help kit, using the skills "First Ask, Second Respond, Third Refer Out" to help students encourage friends who need help from adults. At the same time, we have produced short films and related resources and will hold a joint school workshop on "how to work with students with suicidal risk" on 18 December to support parents and teachers in early identification and handling of high-risk situations.’

 

For media enquiries, please contact:

Ms Ivy Chung, Service Supervisor, School Social Work Service (Tel: 2389 4242)

Ms Phoebe Chan, Service Supervisor, School Social Work Service (Tel: 2389 4242)

Mr Don CHENG, Assistant Manager (Public Relations) (Tel: 2731 6263)

 


> > >  Press release 2023   < < <

  • From left: Don Cheng, Assistant Manager (Public Relations); Jackie Chan, Supervisor of Centre for Research & Development; Ivy Chung, Service Supervisor, School Social Work Service; Phoebe Chan, Service Supervisor, School Social Work Service, and Principal Li Kin Man, Vice President of the Hong Kong Association For School Discipline And Counseling Teachers
  • HKCS encourages collaboration between different stakeholders to support students’ developmental needs and encourages them to seek help when they are struggling.