Government officials and academics are fearing that Hong Kong's suicide rate will go up amid the financial crisis, especially among men aged between 30 and 59.
Hong Kong's suicide rate had been on the rise since 1997 when the Asian financial crisis hit the city. In that year, 12.1 in 100,000 people committed suicide and the number hit its peak at 18.6 during the SARS outbreak in 2003.
The figure then went down to 13.5 last year when the economy revived.
In absolute term, the number of suicide cases dropped by 26 percent from 1,200 in 2003 to less than 1,000 in 2006.
Permanent Secretary for Labour and Welfare Paul Tang said at a conference on suicide prevention Friday that it is feared that the suicide rate will go up again and the government will keep a close look at the situation.
He said the government has already allocated funding to two community organizations to set up counseling hotlines.
Tang declined to predict whether the existing turmoil will be worse than the Asian financial crisis, saying it is too early to do so.
Speaking at the same conference, University of Hong Kong Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention director Paul Yip expressed fear that more people will commit suicide than in 1997.
He said men aged between 30 and 59 are the most vulnerable as they have a heavier financial burden.
"Besides, men do not like to seek help as they tend to think only the weak would ask for help," he said.
Yip said the aftermath of the financial crisis has yet to be seen, and suggested that preventive measures be taken now.
He said family support is crucial to the prevention of suicide and urged community members to adopt a simple lifestyle.
International Association for Suicide Prevention president Brian Mishara urged the media not to play up suicide stories to avoid creating any copy-cat effect.
(HK Edition 11/01/2008 page1)