Help is a phone call away

Help is a phone call away

Peer support aims to cut suicide rate by raising awareness

September 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day. But, just two days before, a 13-year-old boy named Chan Wai-lok left a text message on his phone, then jumped from his flat.

"Goodbye, daddy and mummy. Mum, don't play mahjong again," the message said. He was the first pupil to commit suicide this academic year. In the 2009-10 school year, 15 secondary students killed themselves, compared to 11 the year before.

According to the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, suicides rose the most last year among boys and young men aged 15 to 24.

"These young men are disrupted by family problems and are not very good at asking for help," centre director Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai says. "They feel disconnected."

Being able to talk about your problems can put a stop to suicidal thoughts - this is where the Young Samaritans Peer Support Programme (YSPSP) comes in.

YSPSP is a joint project run by the Samaritans and Outward Bound HK which began 12 years ago. It aims to reduce teen suicide attempts and deaths through peer support. Each year, students are recruited to run projects to raise awareness of teen suicide.

Programme director Peter Pulsford says the suicide rate of teenagers in Hong Kong "translates to one case in every two weeks - a scary figure".

"But I'm glad to say the rate has fallen lately. We cannot always know why people [make such a decision], but we do know it takes more than one thing to trigger it," he says.

This year, 10 students were selected to take part in the programme's tough seven-day Outward Bound course, as well as workshops on public speaking, listening skills and depression. After the training, they created posters, gave talks at international and local secondary schools, and launched a Facebook group to answer questions from students.

"I joined the programme because it dealt with issues that were affecting the people around me," Esther Sun, 17, from King George V School, says. "One of my friends has attempted suicide, and it was one of those moments where you realise how youth suicide is one of the important matters lurking beneath everyday life."

Eighteen-year-old Steven Chong Wai-leung of King's College also joined the programme and learned valuable information on prevention. "Most people don't want to die - they just want to stop hurting," Steven says. "We've learned and taught others to recognise the warning signs and take them seriously - the first step to suicide prevention.

"We tell other students: even if you forget everything we've said, we just want you to remember the Samaritans' 24-hour hotline - 2896 0000."

Students aged 16-18 who want to take part in next year's programme can e-mail The Samaritans at yspsp@samaritans.org.hk

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