Hong Kong's suicide rate has reached a historic peak, surpassing the global average.
"Based on the latest suicide figures in 2003, it is estimated that about 1,200 people committed suicide in the territory," said Dr Paul Yip, director of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Center for Suicide Prevention (CSRP) Thursday.
Speaking at a seminar on suicide prevention, Yip said the rate is "17.6 per 100,000, well above the global rate of 15.0 and the highest figure in recent years".
Yip said that the suicide rates of the elderly and the middle-aged group have significantly increased, due to unemployment, financial debt and mental disorders such as depression.
According to the CSRP, the estimated medical costs for suicide attempts amounted to HK$48 million last year.
Latest statistics revealed that the suicide rate for Hong Kong citizens above the age of 60 rose by 40 percent with 303 cases in 2003, while the suicide rate for people in the 40 to 59 year age bracket increased by 27 percent.
Yip recommended that family members and colleagues of those who are in distress should offer them emotional support and to seek help from social organizations such as suicide prevention centers and other support groups.
Dr Jose Bertolote, an expert from the World Health Organization, said the government and support groups should focus on three areas in suicide prevention, including control of access to means of suicide, de-glamourizing media reports and treatment of mental disorders.
"We must mobilize society to talk about the issue and break the taboo of suicide to achieve further progress in suicide prevention," he said.
Meanwhile, Secretary of Justice Elsie Leung urged different sectors of society to join hands in saving lives.
"The full support of the community is necessary if we are to bring the problem of suicide under control," she said.
Globally, about 850,000 suicides take place each year, with a rate of 15.0 per 100,000 people or one death every 40 seconds, according to the WHO.
(China Daily HK Edition September 10, 2004)