Lau Ming-wai, the chairman of the Hong Kong’s Commission on Youth, stood up in front of a room full of students at the University of Hong Kong last month to talk about one thing: suicide prevention. “I feel flattered that a lot of young people expect me to be able to solve all of their problems. Whether that’s their education, jobs or housing, they seem to believe that I’m a one stop shop for all youth matters …” Lau said, and then went on to describe youth suicide as the most pressing and the most heartbreaking youth issue that he has to deal with.
“It’s one that I feel most helpless about. With other youth issues, I have a magic wand called money or policy advice, and I can wave until something happens and eventually it can be solved … but not suicide,” he said.
The WeCare Fund for Student-Initiated Youth Suicide Prevention Project was personally funded by Lau, and was conducted by HKU’s Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention. The Fund is aimed at encouraging student teams to create and implement mental health related projects at their universities – and Lau was in attendance on March 9, when a ceremony was held to present awards to the most successful projects.
Each team, 14 in total, of students that took part was given a budget of HK$50,000 to work on their projects, and were supported in their efforts by professional advisors.
Sam Wan Ka-long is a Year Four student from the Baptist University’s Chinese Language and Literature Department, and was the champion for the Best Practice Award, and shared his own experiences of finding it hard to handle pressure.
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“I had [almost] imagined [sitting on the edge of] a building … but I couldn’t die. I’m an only child, and I need to look after my mother,” Wan said in his acceptance speech.
Wan headed up the “Shall We Talk” project, which uses student-directed dramas to express the concerns of students on issues like youth suicide. The winning of the Best Practice Award meant that they were given extra funding to expand their project. Wan revealed that before the ceremony, a doctor had told him that the problems he has been suffering with his back aren’t likely to be cured. He had begun to worry about things like money, and had tried to keep his health issues a secret from his family. However, he soon realised that hiding all of his problems wasn’t the answer.
“One night when I was at home, I just started crying,” Wan told Young Post. “My mother was already in bed but she came out from her room to talk and cry with me … Getting it all out and having someone to share my troubles with made me feel so much better.” That’s why Wan says communication is vital, and that’s one of the key messages that he weaves through the plays that’s he’s written. Wan wrote three scripts in a month, which were then turned into three plays that were performed at the Black Box Theatre.
The plays were intimate and interactive, and after the performances were over, the cast stayed to talk to the audience, who shared not only their feedback, but also their struggles that they feel in life. Some even shed tears.
“Drama can be a great tool to help you to release your emotions,” Wan said. “I’m glad that my play made my audience feel,” Wan said, adding that he did plenty of reading and researching before writing the scripts. In his quest to understand the reasons behind youth suicides, he discovered that one of the many reasons that drive young people to these actions is a perceived lack of value in themselves.
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“People are always trying to define their own sense of value, but the truth is that it’s not what you are worth to society that’s important, but your value to those who love you and care for you,” Wan says.
He also realised that not many students in Hong Kong are in the habit of sharing their problems with others. Sharing their problems with others could help them more than they realise. “[Many young people might commit suicide] not because they’re thinking ‘I’m under a lot of pressure right now’, but because it’s something that’s been building up over time,” he said.
“I hope by winning this award, our play will gain more attention and help raise awareness of the importance of taking steps towards communication; it’s through proper communicating that you realise that your friends and family are always there for you.” And it’s not just those you know that will be able to help you, he added, as the cast of the student-directed dramas will have your back too.
“We’re here because we care for the vulnerable and those with issues,” he said.
Lau said that he’s glad that so many different teams joined the project with all of their different ideas and wanted to “extend a helping hand, lend an ear to listen and [provide] different ways of raising awareness” of youth suicide.
Suicide is a complicated phenomenon with multiple factors, the sponsor, who also sits on the Committee on Prevention of Student Suicides, said.
“It’s highly individualised and personalised, and there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all' solution to its prevention … of the 14 projects, some will work for some people, and others won’t. What might work for you might not for me. Different ideas will have different effects on different people, but that’s what we need – diversity and approachability,” Lau added.
Edited by Ginny Wong