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#JamesDonaldsononMentalHealth – #HongKong Protests: #Suicides Spark #MentalHealth Fears

Four people have killed themselves leaving a note or reference to the protests against the territory’s extradition bill.

By Siobhan Robbins, Southeast Asia correspondent

A memorial to one of those who died
Image:A memorial to one of those who died

Twenty minutes from the #Chinese mainland, a #HongKong community is grieving.

A young life has been lost; a 21-year-old woman fell to her death last Saturday.

Lo Hiu Yan’s friends say she left a message demanding the controversial extradition bill be withdrawn.

Her #suicide is one of four in the last three weeks where a note or reference has been found to the ongoing political crisis.

“I feel a bit powerless. I don’t know why she tried to do this, to end her life,” her friend, Dennis, 26, sobbed. “I just feel regret and I really hope that no more #HongKong people try to end their lives like this.”

A woman grieves at a memorial to one of those who died
Image:A woman grieves at a memorial to one of those who died

At a vigil where Lo died, neighbours join strangers in prayer.

People carry white flowers which they pile around flickering tea-lights.

Mourning is a traditionally private affair in #HongKong, but these deaths have prompted public outpourings of grief.

Some have started calling them “martyrs”, saying they died for the cause.

        #JamesDonaldson notes:


Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.

Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.

Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space.  #http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle


A memorial to the man who died wearing a yellow rain coat
Image:A memorial to the man who died wearing a yellow rain coat

On 15 June, a 35-year-old man wearing a yellow raincoat jumped from a building near the city’s parliament.

Police spent hours trying to talk Mr Leung down.

His yellow jacket declaring “Carrie Lam is murdering #HongKong” has become a symbol of the protest.

It’s depicted in pro-democracy artwork and posters, and people carry copies of it through the streets on marches.

On #socialmedia, he is celebrated by some as a freedom fighter or hero.

Roses left as a memorial
Image:Roses left as a memorial

It’s a worrying situation for the city’s psychologists who fear that with no solution in sight, copycat #suicides could follow.

“I think it’s probably the first time we have witnessed this in #HongKong,” explained Dr Eliza Cheung, clinical psychologist for the Hong Kong Red Cross.

“We are worried that some of the protesters’ deaths are being glorified, especially on social media, and this could pose some risk factors, especially to those who have some pre-existing #mentalhealth conditions.”

Experts say #suicide is unlikely to have one single trigger and that one event should not be seen as the only cause of a complex issue.

#HongKong’s summer of discontent is putting a strain on residents.

A crisis hotline run by The Samaritan Befrienders group has seen a surge in calls relating to the extradition bill.

Between March and the end of May they got just eight calls. In June, that rose to 36. In the first five days of July they’ve already had 18.

A similar service run by the Red Cross received 99 calls between 12 June and 3rd July.

The callers are young and old, worried parents, frustrated protesters and demoralised #policeofficers.

It seems no-one is immune from the stress, with Robert Wong, chairman of the Samaritan Befrienders, warning #HongKong could be on the brink of a mental health crisis.

“This event, no matter if you are for or against, it will not be a one- or two-day issue. It will be a long term issue to discuss and argue, so if we continue to have this kind of tense, emotional disturbance for everybody in #HongKong, it definitely will be a crisis,” he told Sky News.

A charity worker mans a telephone help line to help people wanting to take their own lives.
Image:A charity worker mans a telephone helpline for those suffering mental health issues

Despite the pressure, the government is refusing to back down and meet the demonstrators’ demands.

Hong Kong’s chief secretary for administration, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, admitted to reporters that youth welfare is a major concern.

“Nothing is more important than life and we should do everything we can to help people, particularly those suffering from various #mentaldepression in the present environment. If they feel they are in difficulty, they should consult professionals and talk to their relatives, talk to their friends,” he said.

But so far the peaceful marches have failed to secure the protesters’ demands. So too has the storming of parliament and as hopelessness and frustration grows, some in this city are becoming increasingly desperate.

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