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China Sets up First Suicide Prevention Center
Kathy Leung cannot forget the pain and helplessness brought by her mother's suicide.

"The unbearable guilt, self-condemnation and shame etched in the hearts of my family members have inevitably paved a bumpy road for their long and weary journey of life," said Leung, who was in Beijing as a representative of those who have suffered from suicide in their families living in Hong Kong.

Leung hoped to tell citizens on the mainland that suicide in any form is a devastating experience for all.

A lifeline was extended yesterday to surviving members of families, those considering attempting suicide and those who are experiencing other psychological crises.

The Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center -- the nation's first suicide prevention organization -- was officially launched yesterday.

It will be staffed by specially trained professionals offering a series of services including a 24-hour free hotline and a website for on-line consultations.

It also provides outpatients and inpatients with specialized crisis intervention services and a 24-hour consultation service for people who attempt suicide and have been treated in emergency rooms of general hospitals.

"Our target is to reduce overall suicide rates in the country by 20 percent within the next eight years," said Cao Lianyuan, director of the center.

This would mean saving 50,000-60,000 lives per year and preventing 400,000 suicide attempts every year.

The center published the first ever national survey on suicide last Thursday based on a Chinese official report on mental health.

The survey estimated a mean annual suicide rate of 23 per 100,000 and a total of 287,000 suicide deaths per year. Suicide accounted for 3.6 percent of all deaths in China and is ranked as the fifth most important cause of death.

The rate in women is 25 percent higher than in men, mainly because of the large number of suicides in young rural women.

Xu Weihua, director of the division for the Protection of Women's Rights and Interests under the All-China Women Federation, said that in some locations they have set up women's rights hotlines.

These give women the opportunity to discuss their problems and thus have an emotional release at the same time, helping them deal with their mental torment.

In some cities and rural areas in China, there is a popular campaign named "Shade under the Tree" that provides shelters offering short-term protection for women who have been injured or are in acute danger. Experts provide women with psychological, medical, social and legal advices inside the shelters, which also offer job-training.

Another finding of the center is that 62 percent of all suicides occurring in China are committed by the ingestion of agricultural chemicals or rat poison. In 75 percent of these cases these poisons have been readily available in the home of the victims.

Gu Baogen, vice-director of the Department of Certification of Agricultural Chemicals under the Ministry of Agriculture, said the ministry has already employed a number of methods to ensure the safe production and use of agricultural chemicals, including the prohibition of the 19 most lethal pesticides.

"But there still needs close collaboration between public health and mental health institutions," Gu said.

(China Daily December 4, 2002)

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