The HKJC Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, HKU published a statistics on suicide rate in Hong Kong last year (Registered deaths up to 31st July 2017). Results show that there has an average suicide cases between 800 to 1,000 for the past 20 years except in 2003 during the the SARS epidemic. During that year, the outbreak triggered a high number of suicide rates of more than 1250 cases with more deaths in female elders but not in male elders or the population under 65 years old.
According to Professor Paul Yip and Sophia G. Chak, the Hong Kong suicide rate is still at about the world average, and higher than that of the US (10.0), UK (7.0) and Australia (11.0). It definitely underscores calls for participation from the wider community to tackle the problems of suicide prevention. In Hong Kong, a higher suicide prevalence was noted in males, with a gender ratio (M:F) of 2:1, though the ratio is lower than that of the Western countries. In 2009, jumping from a height (52%) was the most frequent suicide method for all age groups, then by hanging (21%) and charcoal burning (18%).
Since the first 10 days of 2018, there has been a total of 21 suicide cases (17 deaths) (Correct as at 5pm, 10th of January 2018) . There has been an average of 1-3 deaths per day as a result of suicides. Suicides usually can’t be attributed to single specific causes such as unemployment or stress, without explaining other underlying issues. Vagaries of life events, health issues, financial issues, mental state of mind, employment or relationships can be the trigger of suicides which put the victims in a state of dystopia.
According to an article published in South China Morning Post on 4th March 2017, while the actual suicide rate among those aged between 15 and 24 in Hong Kong has increased only slightly over the past five years, the number of teens who report being depressed is of concern. A citywide survey found that nearly half of secondary school students showed signs of depression.
When speaking to students, they uniformly agreed that academic pressure is one of the top reasons for stress.
Top reasons for stress amongst teens:
a) Unrealistic expectations set by parents;
b) Lack of time for relaxation as their schedules are often filled up;
c) Lack of proper channels to communicate their frustrations;
d) Spending too much time on social media, internet and video games which lead them to disengagement from regular interactions which in return may lead to poor self-esteem.
A lot of experts would advise on providing more focus to young people as well as providing confidential counselling services in school settings. Instead, I am going to offer an alternative lesson in life to the parents themselves. How could parents cultivate a healthy mind in their children if they themselves started off on the wrong foot in the first place?
Identifying the root of all evil
Parents themselves are embedded with the notion that financial security and the desire to make more money (even if they can’t themselves) are the key drivers to the so-called success in life. Securing good grades and graduating from good educational institutions seem to be the pre-requisites to succeed in this capitalistic world.
Teens have been educated since young by their parents to study hard, accumulate wealth and demonstrate possession of it in the future to escape opprobrium. As they grow older, they would feel anxious and to blame as a result of a failure to do so. Accordingly, the possession of a great many material goods become necessary not because these good yield pleasure and comfort, but because they confer honour, a benchmark for success in life. Owning an apartment (the dream of most average Hong Kongers) has become one of the necessaries not from the viewpoint of physical survival but because no one in Hong Kong could be thought respectable and so lead a psychologically comfortable life without owning one.
To make matter worse, most upper echelons of the society in Hong Kong are being blinded by the relentless pursue of hedonism. They fail to understand that marginal utility decreases the further you wander toward the fringe. A designer bag, a sports car and a luxury apartment become ineffectual after owning them for a while. Avoid the extremes, strike a balance and this will lead you to a happier life, this is easy said than done for most Hong Kongers.
In the Affluent society (1958), J.K. Galbraith proposed that ‘People are poverty stricken whenever their income, even if adequate for survival, falls markedly behind that of the community. Then they cannot have what the larger community regards as the minimum necessary for decency; and they cannot wholly escape, therefore, the judgement of the larger community that they are indecent.’ Why should both wealth and poverty be read as the predominant guides to an individual’s morals?
Well, the reasons are pretty obvious. To earn money frequently calls upon virtues of character. The more lucrative the job, the greater the merits may demand. Lawyers and bankers not only earn higher salaries than street cleaners, their occupations typically involve more sustained effort and skill. It is not difficult to imagine that many virtues must lie behind the acquisition of cupboards full of Chanel and Hermes, yachts, watches, apartments and jewels. According to Alain De Botton in his book ‘Status anxiety’, ( Definition of status anxiety: the desire of people in many modern societies to “climb the social ladder” and the anxieties that result from a focus on how one is perceived by others) the notion of a status symbol is a costly material object that confers respect upon its owner, rests upon the widespread and not improbably idea that the acquisition of the most expensive goods must inevitably demand the greatest of all qualities of character.
For Epicurus, we are happy if we are not in active pain because we suffer active pain if we lack vitamins and clothes, we must have enough money to buy them. But suffering is too strong a word to describe what will occur if we are obliged to wear an ordinary pair of sneakers from Mong Kok , rather than some Yeezy boots or to eat a simple bowl of noodles rather than Beluga Caviar.
Hence the argument that : Plain noodles with dumplings offer the same pleasure as eating a bowl of Michelin-star Japanese ramen, when the pain that comes from what is taken away.
Ancient Stoic philosophers never recommended poverty, they often advised that we should neither fear not despise it. You can live in a beautiful apartment but you can be considered wise only by one detail. How would you respond to poverty? You should be able to walk away from your material possessions and your maids without rage or despair.
Remember, the wise man is always self-sufficient.
Young people ought to be taught to maintain positive states – the fastest way to start this state is with lots of love and compassion from their parents. Fear of failure is merely a mental projection. Young people must be taught that courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to act despite of it. Stress and anxiety come from over expectations and stretched ambitions. Parents should be aware of their children’s own abilities or objective reality to avoid symptoms of chronic stress being carried forward into the adult life of teens – they are the feelings of fragmentations and of chasing after time of not being able to be present. By allowing kids to fail and problem-solve at young ages, they learn how to handle life’s curveballs before they lose their safety net.
Depressions in adulthood
According to a recent survey by Gallup International Association, Hong Kong was ranked the seventh-least happy place in the world. While we may not ascertain for sure the attributable causes of adult suicides but it is an undeniable fact that a vast majority of adults suffer from stress due to high cost of living, disillusioned material aspirations and status anxiety.
The root of all evil again? Money and the desire to make more money.
Boethius in his book Consolation of Philosophy taught us to accept the existence of fate. Everything we own, value and love is ephemeral (e.g. money, reputation and marriage) and he constantly reminds us to remember that positive has outweighed the negative in life and that sweet things are always tinged with bitterness. What can’t be taken away from you are your thoughts, your mental tools, the way you interpret bad luck, loss and set backs. This is why we need to build our mental fortress so that nothing can annihilate you.
Self-pity is one of the most usual response to one’s failures. Remember, it doesn’t change anything. Self-pity is an emotional whirlpool that will suck you deeper down.
According to the Law of Holes, if you find yourself in a hole, STOP DIGGING because self pity is counterproductive. Not getting bogged down in self-pity is a golden rule of mental health. Seneca once said that, ‘Things will get thrown at you and things will hit you. Life’s no soft affair’.
Young adults should focus on living the present experience instead of focusing on accumulating future material purchases. They should focus on their lives and careers within their circle of competence i.e. skills that are domain specific instead of being carried away and distracted by areas which they are totally unfamiliar with. Young adults should strive to achieve goals set within their inner self instead of focusing on how their friends and family will evaluate them.
Put the ego in your back seat and the better your life will be.