SCMP Saturday, September 22, 2001

Suicide biggest killer of youths


Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people, according to a study released yesterday.
The study also found that a rise in the general suicide rate was caused by an increasing number of elderly people taking their lives.
Using government figures and information from the Coroner's Court, University of Hong Kong researchers found that the suicide rate increased 39 per cent, from 9.6 to 13.3 per 100,000 people, between 1981 and 1999.
"A significant portion of the increase is due to ageing," Dr Paul Yip Siu-fai, from the university's department of statistics and actuarial science, said.
According to the Census and Statistics Department, there were 531,600 people aged over 60 in 1981, increasing to 968,400 in 1999. The suicide rate in this age group stands at 25 per 100,000.
"Overseas, the suicide rate among the elderly is more or less the same as the overall rate, but not in Hong Kong. Poor comparative medical and welfare services may be the reason," Dr Yip said, adding that in the West, elderly people were more independent.
"However, we must note that the rate has steadied since 1998 due to government education and social services."
The suicide rate among people aged between 15 and 24 stands at nine per 100,000, but Dr Yip said it was not particularly high compared with other countries.
"Suicide is only the third leading cause of death among young people overseas, behind homicides and accidents," he said.
Dr Yip said the medical costs each year of treating people injured after attempting suicide was $22 million and the annual loss to total gross national product was $3 billion.
Amy Chow Yin-man, from the university's department of social work and social administration, said a 13-year-old boy whose father committed suicide when he was eight asked her why his father was so "cowardly".
"He asked me if he should copy his father when he faced difficulty. I must stress suicide is only the beginning of a series of questions, financially and psychologically for a family," Ms Chow said.
Professor Cecilia Chan Lai-wan, dean of the faculty of social sciences, said that while Hong Kong's medical service was among the best in the world, its mental health service lagged behind.
The university is to set up a centre at the end of the year to research suicide.