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In 2002-2004, more than 10% of HK people who died of suicide were 15-24 years old (fig. 1 in appendix). However, in 2002, nearly 80% of HK people who attempted suicide were 15-24 years old (fig. 2 in appendix). Suicide problem in adolescents in HK is serious. In this paper, I will firstly define some terms. Then I will discuss relationship between stress and suicide in theoretical aspect, other causes of suicide, stress and illness, good methods to reduce stress and finally suicide prevention methods.
Definitions of Stress & Suicide
The term stress refers to pressure or force placed on a body. Psychologically, stress refers to a demand that is placed on an organism to adapt or adjust (Jeffrey S. N., et al., 2006: 137-138). The state of stress has two components: a stressor, the event that creates the demands, and a stress response, the person’s reactions to the demands. The stressors of life can include annoyances in everyday like rush-hour traffic; turning-point events like getting a new career; long-term problems like unemployment; or traumatic events like earthquakes. Our response to such stressors is influenced by the way we appraise both the events and our capacity to react to them in an effective way (Pretzer et al., 2002; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) (Ronald J. C., 2004: 161).
Edwin Shneidman (2001, 1993, 1981, 1963) defines suicide as an intentioned death – a self-inflicted death in which one makes an intentional, direct and conscious effort to end one’s life (Ronald J. C., 2004: 298). In other words, the person does self-killing action and is not killed by the other people.
Relationship Between Stress & Suicide
Learning theorists focus largely on the lack of problem-solving skills for handling significant life stress. According to Shneidman (1985), those who attempt suicide wish to escape unbearable psychological pain and may perceive no other way out (Jeffrey S. N., et al., 2006: 281). If stress is too large or persists for a long period of time, the person will feel serious headache.
Social-cognitive theorists also focus on the potential modelling effects of observing suicidal behaviour in others, especially among teenagers who feel overwhelmed by academic and social stressors (Jeffrey S. N., et al., 2006: 281). In HK, teenagers face heavy stresses from school tests and examinations, especially Form 5 HK Certificate of Education Exams (HKCEE) and Form 7 HK Advanced Level Exams (HKALE). They worry that if they fail in HKCEE, they cannot further their studies in Form 6 and go to find careers. Similarly, Form 7 students also worry that if they fail in HKALE, they cannot study bachelor degrees directly in universities. Few students who fail in HKCEE and HKALE feel depressed and attempt suicide. Form 5, Form 7 or even university graduates also worry that they become unemployed because they have little or even no working experiences. If unemployment time is long, they will have economic stress and feel depressed. Few of them attempt suicide.
By the way, HK Federation of Youth Groups surveyed 1,500 candidates of HKCEE in 2010. If 10 marks represent the most stressful, 60% of the respondents gave 7 to 10 marks (very stressful to extreme stress). It is because HKCEE is the last time in 2010 as HKCEE and HKALE will be replaced by Diploma of Secondary Education Exam in 2012 in 3-3-4 education reform. If they fail in HKCEE in 2010, they have no confidence to repeat Form 5 as they face new 3-3-4 curriculum. Suicide rate may rise among HKCEE candidates in 2010, comparing with previous years of HKCEE candidates.
A social contagion, or spreading of suicide in a community, may occur in the wake of suicides that receive widespread publicity. Teenagers, who seem to be especially vulnerable to these modelling effects, may even romanticize the suicidal act as one of heroic courage (Jeffrey S. N., et al., 2006: 281). In other words, adolescents are positively reinforced that hero’s death can attract more people to memorize him or her. Adolescents have wrong concept that death can avoid or solve all problems. In reality, death cannot avoid or solve problems and only give sadness to other people.
Connecting with the last paragraph, modelling effect is social learning. The incidence of suicide among teenagers sometimes rises markedly in the period following news reports about suicide. In a study in Oregon, suicidal behaviour of a friend was a risk factor in suicide attempts among adolescents (Lewinsohn, Rohde & Seeley, 1996) (Jeffrey S. N., et al., 2006: 281). In HK, peer influence is a very important factor of suicide among youngsters. In modern world, computer is a necessity that most information can be gained through internet, including detailed information on different suicide methods like jumping, hanging and poisoning. On the other hand, people can talk in and leave messages in discussion forums, writing weblogs and sending e-mails in internet. Youngsters like to express their opinions and share his or her feelings including stress and depression with peers in internet. In November 2009, one person set up a suicide group in facebook in internet and attracted 188 members to join. They planned to commit suicide in December. One student member in Tin Shui Wai attempted suicide in school but was stopped. The member told to social worker that he was affected by this suicide group. At last, the suicide group was deleted and aroused social concern. However, another new suicide groups in internet continue to establish. This reflects youngsters like to imitate suicide attempt from peers who have previous suicidal behaviour.
Some theorists believe that the period of adolescence itself produces a stressful climate in which suicidal actions are more likely (Goldman & Beardsley, 1999). Adolescence is a period of rapid growth, and it is often marked by depressed feelings, tensions and difficulties at home and school. Adolescents tend to react to events more sensitively, angrily, dramatically and impulsively than individuals in other age groups; thus the likelihood of suicidal acts during times of stress is increased (Taylor & Stansfeld, 1984) (Ronald J. C., 2004: 318).
Other Causes of Suicide
Besides stressful study in school, there are many factors causing adolescents to commit suicide.
Many suicides among young people are directly preceded by stressful events such as a female teenager has an unwanted pregnancy and moving to a new school. Moreover, traumatic event such as a male teenager breaks up with a girlfriend or a female teenager breaks up with a boyfriend can cause teenagers to commit suicide (Jeffrey S. N., et al., 2006: 501).
Furthermore, family problems contribute to an increased risk of suicide attempts and actual suicides. These problems include poor parent-child communication, family conflicts and loss of a parent (Jeffrey S. N., et al., 2006: 501).
Stress & Illness
Though occasional stress may not impair our health, chronic or repetitive stress can weaken the body’s immune system over time (Ader et al., 2001; Dougall & Baum, 2001; Epstein, 2003; Kemeny, 2003). A weakened immune system increases our susceptibility to common illnesses such as colds and the influenza, and possibly increases risk of developing chronic diseases including cancer (Jeffrey S. N., et al., 2006: 141).
Exposure to physical sources of stress such as loud noise, especially when intense or prolonged, can dampen immunological functioning and deprive one’s sleeping time. Lesser sleeping time can affect performance in examinations (Maier, Watkins & Fleshner, 1994). Medical students, for example, show poorer immune functioning during exam time than they do a month before exams when their lives are less stressful (Glaser et al., 1987) (Jeffrey S. N., et al., 2006: 141).
Good Methods To Reduce Stress
There are many methods to reduce stress. However, not all methods are good like smoking and eating drugs. At first, you must understand your abilities and limitations so that your target is not too high to reach. You can manage your plan properly by the importance of works. Do the most important work at first priority and put the least important work at the lowest priority.
Moreover, try to relax yourself by doing exercises like jogging, swimming and playing ball games. When you feel nervous, you can close your eyes for several minutes and breathe deeply. If you are still nervous, you can ask teachers or social workers for help.
Usually, people who commit suicide must have signals before such as giving his or her all favourite things to other people and collect information about death. In order to prevent suicide, parents should express openly your concern over the youngster and squarely discuss the suicide committed with him or her. Parents must remember to remove deadly objects at home such as Panadol and scissors. Parents should show more appreciation to the youngster, regardless of his or her success or failure and indicate to the youngster that you will stand by him or her by providing immeasurable support to him or her.
On the other hand, parents should not divert your attention to other matters when talking with youngster such as watching TV programmes or engaging in long telephone conversations. Parents should not remain nagging or uttering words with a negative attitude and tone such as “It can’t be done!” or “utterly childish ideas!”
Stress and suicide not only appear in adolescence, but also appear in childhood and adulthood. No one can get rid of stress. Youngsters, as the hosts of our future society, should think more about life meaning. “No ‘Take 2’ in life, please play your role carefully.”
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