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Suicide attempts on the rise in China
Updated: 2004-03-31 08:53

One year ago, Leslie Cheung, a Hong Kong movie star who won best actor in Cannes in 1993, killed himself in Hong Kong and reportedly triggered off several suicidal acts among fans on the Chinese mainland.

The suicidal run underlined a serious problem about depressive illness and lack of effective psychological health care in China.

Recently, establishment of a medical rescue center for those at psychological risk at the Nanjing Brain Hospital in this capital city of east China's Jiangsu Province has further highlighted increasing concerns about depressive illness and efforts to reduce suicide attempts among the Chinese people.

The center consists of three segments of psychological intervention and emergency and psychiatric services, employing 150 physicians and nurses.

The first segment provides psychological guidance to people exposed to suicidal risks, the second offers first-aid service for attempted suicides and the third, with 400-plus beds, receives and conducts follow-up psychiatric intervention for patients with failed suicide attempts.

Suicide now ranks the fifth most common cause of death in China, next only to those from angio cardiopathy, malignant tumors and respiratory diseases and accidental deaths, according to the China Psychological Health Association based in Nanjing.

The association said suicide is the top death cause for people aged at 15 to 34 in the nation.

Suicide has become one of the greatest health concerns worldwide. Statistics show that annually, an estimated total of 1 million people commit suicide, and the number of failed suicide attempts is more than 10 times the figure.

Currently in China 287,000 people commit suicide every year, orone suicide and eight failed attempts every other minute, according to data provided by the Beijing Huilongguan Hospital based in China's capital.

In Nanjing City alone, with a population of around six million, emergency calls for suicide attempts now number four a day, said Zhang Zhou, director of Emergency Department of the Nanjing Brain Hospital.

In terms of suicide attempts, rural areas outnumber urban areasand males outnumber females. The young and the old stand at the forefront, Zhang Zhou added.

Experts believed that every suicide act may affect at least six people. In China, more than 15 million people annually demand a range of psychological health care after their family members or friends commit suicide, and 135,000 children and adolescents suffer from parent suicides, the experts estimated.

Traditionally, Chinese people see depression as shameful and hesitate to ask for help when they are exposed to high psychological pressures.

According to the China Youth Daily, China started to have psychological counseling and related hotline services in the 1980s-1990s, yet 93 percent of suicide attempts have since been put under psychological intervention.

General hospitals nationwide handled about 2 million failed suicide attempts every year, but less than 1 percent of them receive psychiatric assessment and guidance during the emergency treatment.

Suicide attempts are a sort of mental illness and should be treated with professional psychological counseling and medication,Professor Zhai Shutao from the Nanjing Brain Hospital says.

Mental disorders account for 70 percent of suicidal deaths and 40 percent of failed suicide attempts in China, experts said.

Liang Lingyan, a psychological counselor from Zhuhai, south China's Guangdong Province, says that exclusive research instituteand prevention mechanisms should be set up to reduce suicide attempts in China.

Prior to the psychological intervention service in Nanjing, a psychological risk and intervention center was launched at the Beijing Huilongguan Hospital at the end of 2002.

However, Zhai Shutao, a psychiatrist and leader in suicide studies and risk intervention in China, says that most areas of China do not have suicide prevention services and that of those who ask for psychological counseling, less than two percent speak out about their suicidal ideas.

He warns that risk intervention can not be substituted by general psychological counseling and that to reduce suicide in China, exertions from several exclusive intervention services are far from enough. He calls for concerted efforts by everyone in society.

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