While projections about millions of confirmed COVID-19 deaths piling up in the US, Europe and elsewhere have proven to be wildly off, doctors warnings that lockdowns would cause severe trauma to the entire population, portending a spike in suicides and other so-called “deaths of despair”, as a group of scientists warned in an open letter published months ago.
But although deaths from COVID-19 have remained roughly stable even as cases and hospitalizations have returned to, or exceeded, their highs from the spring, suicides, drug overdoses and not to mention deaths from untreated underlying medical conditions are all on the rise.
Now, the SCMP reports that Hong Kong is in the grip of an alarming rise in the number of young people struggling with emotional distress and suicidal ideation, while a rise in the suicide rate that predated COVID-19 appears to have worsened. The paper (infamously controlled by a Communist Party member and billionaire Chinese tech entrepreneur) attributed these conditions to the pandemic, but we suspect that Beijing’s brutal crackdown on dissent with its new national security law has contributed to general feelings of malaise in the tiny, but densely populated metropolitan area.
Whatever the cause, three health organizations in the territory warned that they were seeing a wave of young adults struggling with severe depression accessing their services. The Samaritans, a suicide prevention charity, said more than 70% of those using its email services were students, ranging from primary school to university level.
According to their internal data, the number of hotline users reporting suicidal thoughts doubled between June and September.
Many students cited school closures and a sense of isolation and uncertainty about the future as contributing factors to their depression. As families hunkered down during quarantine, relationships between parents and children became strained. Obviously, the impact on the economy has left many once-secure individuals dependent on government benefits to survive, wondering whether they’ll be able to make it through to the spring, or whenever industries like tourism and hospitality finally recover.
“It is a matter of concern, because early intervention and talking to people is the first step to preventing a suicidal act,” said Karman Leung, chief executive of The Samaritans in Hong Kong.
One 24-hour text platform called “Open Up” (it’s aimed at those aged between 12 and 29) also reported an increase in young people contacting them due to emotional distress. It said the cases went up from 86 per day in February to 110 a day in September, an increase of 28%.
Like the US, suicide rates were rising in Hong Kong even before the pandemic. In 2019, the suicide rate climbed to 13% from 12.3%, though of course that’s just one year.
But all of the evidence seen so far seems to suggest that the rate in 2020 will be significantly higher.
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