Wednesday, November 25, 2015   

Visits that make life worth living

Winnie Chong

Monday, July 29, 2013

Social welfare volunteers seldom make the news. When they do, they are often portrayed in a negative light.

But to 64-year-old Madame Chan, they are shining angels who have changed her from a depressed woman with suicidal thoughts to someone eagerly looking forward to the next day.

Chan lives in an old Sham Shui Po flat with her husband. Her eyesight started deteriorating 15 years ago due to genetic reasons. Despite this, she was optimistic and cheerful as her family took good care of her.

However, in May last year, Chan was diagnosed as suffering from depression after her only daughter died of cancer. She tried to overcome the anguish, but could not stop thinking of her daughter, who was in her early 30s when she died, when she was alone.


"I always thought about my daughter. I kept visiting her room and had thoughts of joining her by jumping from my window," Chan said.

Her family, especially her husband, felt great pressure and made sure Chan was never left at home alone. Through a referral, Chan began receiving phone calls from social welfare volunteers. They visited her and got her involved in various activities.

"Talking with them made me feel happier and my thoughts became more positive," Chan said. "I enjoyed being with people."

Volunteer Helen Szeto Fong-fong said she is very happy when the elderly people she contacts are willing to open up to her. And she was touched when Chan remembered her visits and the activities in which she was involved.

The volunteers get plenty out of the visits as well. Toby Chan Sai-kin said volunteering made him a more patient listener and improved his ability in handling conflicts at work. It also helped him realize that life is precious, and there are lots of resources in society to help those in need.

"There are many ways to help people if you just take time to consider your options," he said.

Chan said volunteers need to pay attention to the physical and mental health of the elderly.

According to Suicide Prevention Services, the elderly need to cope with changes such as poor health, sickness, economic difficulties and losing loved ones, all of which cause stress. Those unable to cope often become suicidal.

The suicide rate of people aged 65 or above was 28.9 percent in 2010 - more than double that of the general suicide rate of younger people.

From 2002 to 2011, 3,152 people aged 60 or over killed themselves - about one suicide per day.

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