World Suicide Prevention Day 2012 “Lighting up hope in the workplace” HKU Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention
releases research findings on employed people suicide
11 Sep 2012
The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are co-sponsoring World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) on September 10th. Hong Kong’s focus this year is employment and suicide.
The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) co-sponsor World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) every year on September 10th. The WHO estimates that about one million people die by suicide every year; which represents a “global” mortality rate of 16 per 100,000, or one death every 40 seconds. For every person who dies by suicide, 20 or more attempt to end their lives.
IASP President, Dr. Lanny Berman, states that the theme for this year is “Suicide Prevention Across the Globe: Strengthening Protective Factors and Instilling Hope”. “Organizations across the globe are making advances in suicide prevention, research, understanding and outreach,” he said. For instance, Royal College of Psychiatrists in the United Kingdom partners with groups in India and Ireland to promote suicide prevention awareness. Cities such as Dublin, Moscow, Barcelona, Rome, Vienna, and Rio de Janeiro are holding conferences to reduce the stigma associated with suicide and mental health issues. A range of protective factors can be strengthened to prevent suicide. The psychological factors include: resilience, self-confidence, coping / problem-solving skills, and help-seeking behaviour. Lifestyle factors such as good diet and sleep, regular physical activity, and non-smoking are associated with lower risk of suicidal behaviour.
In Hong Kong, our focus for this year’s WSPD is employment and suicide. The overall suicide rate for 2010 is 13.6 per 100,000, whilst the suicide rate for employed people (aged 20-59) is 7.24 per 100,000. The Coroners’ court 2003-2010 data shows that employed individuals constitute about 30% of all suicides each year (i.e., around 300 individuals) of which, 70% were male, 39% were never married, 41% had psychiatric problems, and 40-47% had financial problems / debt. These people are perceived to be in the prime of their lives and their death represents a heavy economic loss and emotional trauma to their family. These findings are a strong reminder that while unemployment is often seen as a risk factor of suicide, we should not overlook the employed population who are also susceptible to the same risk factors for suicide as the unemployed population.
Further investigations into suicide found professions including nurses and police between 2003-2010 showed relatively higher suicide rates than the overall employed population. Teachers also have a suicide rate close to the average employed suicide rate. Nurses, police, and teachers had suicide rates of 9.46, 9.39 and 7.35 per 100,000 respectively. Amongst police and teachers who died from suicide, 50-63% were married; on the other hand, 54% of the nurses who took their lives were single. Close to half (49%) of the teachers who died from suicide had work related problems, in contrast to 14% among nurses and 22% among police officers. Indebtedness, a common risk factor for suicide in the overall population, was also common among police officers (44%) who died by suicide. Not only do these professionals share similar risk factors of suicide as the general population, their help- or care-giving role in society may have several implications that are noteworthy. These professionals tend to face high expectations from the society and some of them may work in a highly stressful environment; thus their mental wellbeing may be at stake. Furthermore, their care giving roles may contribute to a stigma towards help-seeking while these caring professionals need help and support as much as other professionals.
These findings suggest that, in contrary to popular belief, having a job or being a professional does not necessarily make people immune to mental health issues or suicide risk. In fact, data from a local psychological autopsy study indicates that self-perceived job insecurity may further increase suicide risk in the presence of psychiatric problems, which are already a risk factor for suicide in itself. We should pay great attention to the mental wellbeing of Hong Kong professionals who suffer from high stress levels. For professionals with a help-providing role such as nurses, police and teachers, they may face more stigma for seeking help from family, friends, colleagues, and health or other professionals, and thus it is all the more important to foster a supportive environment that fights this stigma.
In response to and support for the theme of WSPD 2012 “Strengthening Protective Factors and Instilling Hope”, Hong Kong would like to urge for a healthy work environment including several aspects: striving for work-life balance, cultivating social support from colleagues, and promoting the awareness of mental well-being. Firstly, even if a healthy number of working hours is not possible, flexibility should at least be allowed so work can be balanced with leisure in order to promote mental well-being. Secondly, management level employees should cultivate good relationships amongst colleagues by being more supportive and sensitive to each other’s needs. Evidence has shown that good relations with colleagues and neighbours are associated with a reduced risk of suicidal behaviour. Finally, the awareness of one’s mental health should be promoted. Educational material or talks regarding mental health and healthy living style should be held regularly. There is nothing wrong for anyone, even professionals, to seek help. Professionals are human after all and no one is immune to mental health issues if a person is stretched to the point of collapse.
For the promotion of mental well-being and updates of mental health information, please follow us at – www.mindmap.hk. You can retrieve latest evidence based information, feature articles and good practice models as knowledge transfer at your workplace. For instance, the power of praise and social connectedness are featured:
Together we can make a better workplace; together we can light up our hopes to prevent suicide.
IASP – World Suicide Prevention Day http://www.iasp.info/wspd/
For press information, please contact:
Prof Paul Yip (Hong Kong) Cell: +852 2831 5232
Dr Shu-Sen Chang (Hong Kong) Cell: +852 2831 5187
President - Dr. Lanny Berman (USA) Cell: +1 301 661 5095
Dr Anthony Davis (Australia) Cell: +61 402 247096
Dr Ella Arensman (Europe) Cell: +353 870522284
Prof Michael Phillips (China) Cell: +86 1 8917192966
Organizational info - Mrs Vanda Scott (UK) Cell: +44 7824 9955 67