The investigation found that suicide is now the number one cause of death in Chinese students, ahead of acute diseases and fires. But the commission says the figure is nothing compare to the number of international students committing suicide globally, and should not be cause for panic.
Presenter: Desmond Ang
Dr Paul Wong, clinical psychologist for the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention; Zhao Yang, spokesperson for the SEC; Zou Shauiqi is a student from Shanghai currently studying in Melbourne
ANG: The Shanghai Education Commission found that, in Shanghai alone, last year twenty three students attempted suicide, nineteen of them succeed.
The commission does not know what the total figure for Chinese student suicides is in China. But they estimate based on reports that two out of every ten thousand Chinese students attempt to take their own lives. More than half of student suicide cases investigated showed that the student was suffering from some form of depression.
Zhao Yang, spokesperson for the SEC, says while there are some precautions being taken, this figure was not a cause of alarm.
ZHAO: Considering this figure against the number of overseas students that kill themselves overseas, we can see that Chinese students are coping a lot better.
ANG: The commission says the situation is more critical with overseas students. It estimates that seven in every ten thousand international students commit suicide globally. But Mr Zhao says the commission is pushing for more counsellors to be assigned to Chinese schools. The commission hopes to have one counsellor to every 3000 students by the year 2012.
ZHAO: This is the first time we've released this figure to the public, and we hope that by doing so, we could generate more public awareness of the issue of mental health among youths.
Zou Shauiqi is a student from Shanghai currently studying in Melbourne. He says there is less academic stress in Australia than in China where you have less time away from the books to indulge in other things. But the social pressures of living in a foreign culture can be overwhelming.
ZOU: It depends a lot on your character and attitude to life. If you maintain a positive attitude, you will never consider suicide. And even if you do, it may be because you're adopting the wrong attitude to your studies or relationships. This would depend a lot on the individual.
Last year, it was reported that nearly 300,000 people committed suicide in China, with one Chinese national taking his life every two minutes. Doctor Paul Wong Wai Cheng is a clinical psychologist from the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention.
WONG:I would think that in China in particular, students go through a very competitive stage to get into universities, and then when they are almost burnt out by the competitiveness among students, they would probably go through stages like hopelessness and then depression and then at the point of having severe depression, and they kill themselves.
ANG: Doctor Wong says that depression is not the only factor behind China's suicide problem. The media could also be responsible.
WONG: Suicide is a very interesting phenomena, sometimes suicidal behaviour can be contagious, which means if a suicide case happens and it is popularly reported by either newspaper or news or radio programs, then people will follow or copycat that suicidal behaviour. So that might be the reason why suicide has become a very hot topic in China. So I would also recommend that universities can develop courses like mental health courses which last for at least 12 weeks to 15 weeks and students can enrol into those courses and whatever.
ANG: Another aspect that is often overlooked is what happens after one survives a suicide attempt.
WONG: One of the difficulties of people who have attempted suicide when they move on with their lives is probably the stigma around the people, for example their family members are probably less willing to talk about the incident which make them having less opportunities to talk about personal lives. Even among the universities, if other students know they have attempted suicide, they will probably be afraid to talk openly about their incidents so this might reduce their soul support.
ANG: He says suicides can be prevented.
WONG: In terms of warning signs, from our research perspective there is a difference between risk factors and warning signs. Risk factors include very proximal factors like childhood abuse and whatever. But warning signs are signs that happen two weeks before the suicidal act. A number of common signs include loss of appetite ... isolating from other people.