Help is always at hand

Travel | Cara Chen 17 Sep 2019

Youngsters these days are so worried about privacy that they are afraid to tell people about their troubles to release pressure.

But this problem can now be solved.

The HKJC Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong released the latest suicide figures on September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day.

Paul Yip Siu-fai, director of the center, called on young people to open their minds and use emotional support services for help.

He said the rising suicide rate among young people is a global challenge and the center aims to seek a local solution.

The center launched an online emotional support platform, Open Up, in October, offering the first 24/7 online crisis support service in Hong Kong.

It targets young adults aged 11 to 35 and provides multiple channels for connecting to volunteers, social workers and counselors via SMS, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and the official website.

The center says most users are concerned about interpersonal and mental health issues, and young people use the service because they feel more comfortable chatting online than in person.

"There are two reasons why young people do not choose emotional support services in person," said Yip. "The first is that they feel traditional ways are relatively outdated, and the second is the worry that one's privacy will be exposed."

Shirley Chow Man-wai, Open Up clinical supervisor, said the service is one of the few in the world to offer emotional support by real people around the clock, with no requirement to provide any personal information at all, thus eliminating the worries of the younger generation.

By the end of May, Open Up had received more than 1.4 million messages and served more than 9,000 users in about 14,400 cases.

Volunteer Denise Mak Wing-yi said that the systematic training offered, including lectures and practicum, had effectively prepared volunteers to become online counselors by giving them confidence.

During the actual online counseling process, she learned to self-reflect more and give feedback in a genuine, non-judgmental manner.

She also tried to step into the shoes of those seeking help, to understand and "walk with distressed youth."

Using the communication skills taught by Open Up, she had built trust and encouraged users to open up, she said.

Chow suggested four tips for people who need stress relief: take care of yourself, stay away from negativity, choose safe ways and places to release stress, and seek help when you feel you need it. "As recent social unrest continues, people need a safe place to express themselves," she added.

In 2018, there were 12.2 suicides per 100,000 people in Hong Kong, slightly lower than 12.8 in 2017, while the suicide rate among those aged 15 to 24 fell from 10.4 per 100,000 in 2017 to 9.5 in 2018, the center said.

While Yip said the figures are encouraging, recent tensions in society, coupled with the constant spread of false information on the internet, can easily stir up the emotions of young people. And if the situation continues, he worries that the youth suicide rate will rise this year.

"We are deeply saddened that recent events have erased trust and care in the community," he said, adding that he would like to encourage young people to use emotional support platforms to seek help.

"Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it's an act of bravery," he said.

He also appealed to families to offer emotional counseling for the young, saying that listening to children and giving them the feeling of being "in the same boat" doesn't mean that you have to agree with them.

"Political events are temporary, "he said, "but family relationships are permanent."

Mak reminded people that the goal of any community has always been to care for the young, and families should never forget that the home and the family should always be a safe haven.

cara.chen@singtaonewscorp.com

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