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Suicide the Leading Cause of Death Among Youth
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Hong Qiankun spent a year looking for a job while he earned his Master's degree in chemical science, graduating from Tsinghua University last July.

Though he eventually found a post at a training school in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, a small city on China's southeastern coast, the conditions were far from ideal. He lived in a crowded dormitory, received a meager wage, and had trouble understanding the accents of his colleagues and students.

Four months later he settled on what must have seemed a cure-all solution to his frustrations. He jumped out of his dormitory window, leaving his parents a simple note that read: "Your son is good. I cannot find a job. I don't want to burden the family any more." 

Cases like Hong's have become alarmingly common. Recent statistics from the Chinese Association of Mental Health show that suicide is the number one killer of Chinese people between the ages of 15 and 34.

The report revealed that suicide accounted for 26.04 percent of the deaths in this age group last year, although no information was provided on the exact number of fatalities.

In 2003, the last year for which statistics are available, the Ministry of Health recorded more than 250,000 suicides and 2 million attempts. In the same year, 31,484 people committed suicide in the US, according to figures from the American Association of Suicidology.

A two-year survey by researchers at Peking University, which ended last May, found that 20.4 percent of the more than 140,000 high school students interviewed said they had considered committing suicide at some point.

Some 6.5 percent of the students surveyed said they had made concrete plans to kill themselves.

The survey, conducted by the university's Children and Teenagers' Health Research Institute, involved 69,091 teenage boys and 72,489 girls, with an average age of 16.3. It covered 13 provinces and municipalities, including big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, and developing areas like the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

These numbers are up from a 2002 survey, where 4,006 students at 11 high schools in Beijing were interviewed, and 17.4 percent of them said they had thought about committing suicide, 3 percent less than in 2006, while 4.9 percent said they had planned to kill themselves.

Many of the people queried had put their plans into action. Three percent of the boys included in the recent survey had tried unsuccessfully to kill themselves at least once. The number for girls was even higher.

In general, teenage girls resort to suicide more easily than boys do, according to the survey. Of the girls surveyed, 23.7 percent said they had thought about killing themselves. The figure was only 17 percent for boys. Additionally, 7.4 percent of the girls said they had drafted suicide plans, while 5.7 percent of the boys said they had done so.

Meanwhile, boys and girls who were in their second and third years of junior high school said they thought more about suicide than teenagers in other grades, according to the survey.

Emotional uncertainty appeared to be one of the main reasons leading to suicide plans. About half of the boys and 57 percent of the girls surveyed said that they had suffered from loneliness during the last 12 months, with reports of loneliness increasing with age.

Thirty-seven percent of the boys and 40 percent of the girls said they often or always had problems sleeping in the last 12 months. Moreover, 17 percent of the teenagers said they had to stop their daily activities for two weeks or longer because they felt too depressed or even desperate.

Researchers found that the pressure on individuals in a transitional society, frustrations in love, a cultural unwillingness to discuss feelings, and the lack of channels for exploring one's identity were some of the leading causes of teenage suicide.

 (China Daily March 27, 2007)

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