A general view of Hong Kong. (Reuters photo)
HONG KONG: The suicide rate for children under the age of 15 hit an all-time high in Hong Kong last year with 11 young people taking their own lives, a rise that experts have partially attributed to learning disruptions caused by the class suspensions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Based on Coroner’s Court data, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Center for Suicide Research and Prevention found that the suicide rate for young people aged 15 or younger in 2021 had risen to 1.7 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 1.2 deaths in 2020 and 0.9 in 2019.
Of those who committed suicide in the 2021-22 academic year, four were aged 12 or younger and the remaining 28 students were between the ages of 13 and 18.
The suicide rate among 15-24 year olds also fell from 8.6 in 2020 to 9.3 last year, with cases involving women in this age group dropping from 4.4 in 2019 to 6.5 last year.
“The number of suicides among young people, especially those aged 15 or younger, has become more concerning during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Professor Yip Siu-fai, director of the center at the University of Hong Kong.
The center then analyzed 36 student cases between January 2021 and June 2022 based on police information, including suicide notes.
Of the 36 cases, one was in primary school, 75% were secondary school students and eight were tertiary or university students.
More than 26% of these cases mentioned academic stress in their suicide notes, while 7.9% were elite students who said they feared not being able to complete their homework or felt exhausted from exams. Another 5.2% of them were students who studied abroad and returned to Hong Kong.
Nine of the students committed suicide on campus, including one elementary school student, six high school students and two university students.
Kenus Leung pui-yee, an educational psychologist at the center, said the increase in student suicides was partly linked to academic performance, as children had to adapt to many changes in their learning environment. during the pandemic.
She said the transition from face-to-face to online lessons has caused adjustment problems for students, while a blended mode of learning due to frequent changes caused by social distancing restrictions has disrupted student learning pace and concentration.
While most schools resumed half-day in-person classes in September, the program was designed for full-day instruction, Leung said.
“The curriculum loaded with learning materials should be integrated with the shortened teaching period,” she said. “Students might feel even more stressed.”
She urged the Education Bureau to review the current curriculum for secondary education and adjust the pace of learning for students, giving them some time to “take a break”.
Yip said that for younger students, schools were places to develop social skills and intimate relationships with peers and teachers.
“The coronavirus pandemic has reduced the time young people have to form bonds with their peers at school,” he said.
Yip added that in other countries, school suspensions were the last pandemic control measure, but in Hong Kong it was the first.
He urged parents to get their children fully vaccinated so they can spend more time in school, “which is better for their mental health”.
Florence Cheung Fung-yee, a certified counselor, added that parents should also bring positive emotions and support to their children by strengthening family relationships and talking to them more.
“Families and schools should work together to help younger generations develop better mental health,” she said.
Overall, the center estimated that Hong Kong’s suicide rate last year was 12.3, which was higher than the 12.1 recorded in 2020.
After adjusting for the age structure of the world’s population, the rate became nine, the same as the latest available world rate.
The center also noted that the suicide rate for the elderly has always been higher than that of other age groups, with men aged 60 or over showing a significant increase from 24.3 in 2020 to 27, 3 in 2021, compared to the slight decline in older women, from 14.9 in 2020 to 14.6 in 2021.