A survey by City University has found that almost one out of every three Hong Kong students aged between 10 and 14 are likely to think about killing themselves.
Researchers from the university polled about 1,500 children in October last year. Almost 700 were in Primary Five and Six, while 830 were in the first two years of secondary school.
Of those polled, 456 were classified as cases with a possibility of suicide.
The survey also found that 40 per cent of primary students suffering from emotional problems said they had thought about taking their own life. The figure for secondary school students was 32 per cent.
Associate professor Sylvia Kwok Lai Yuk-ching, who led the research, said the numbers were alarming and added that youngsters who felt hopeless, isolated or saw themselves as a burden were more likely to harm themselves.
The questions were based on the Child-Adolescent Suicidal Potential Index, a tool researchers used to identify people at risk of self-harm. Students scoring more than 11 points were classified as at risk of suicide.
Lee Po-kong, development officer for the Hong Kong Caritas Family Service, said parents, teachers and the wider community had to build a safety net to protect children from emotional problems.
Group activities and teamwork could help boost self-confidence, resilience and happiness, to reduce the risk of suicide, Lee said.
Dr Amos Cheung Chuen-yih, clinical psychologist and president of the Hong Kong Psychological Society, thinks that potential indexes, including the one used for the survey, tend to over-identify potential cases because they are used for quick and easy screening tests.
But Cheung pointed out the survey results did reflect that this group of students had been facing a fairly high amount of pressure and their emotional instability was unsatisfactory.
If you or someone you know are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. In Hong Kong, dial +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services or +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans.