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Long-sought NGO targeting suicide to set up

2014-08-25 16:21 Shanghai Daily Web Editor: Si Huan

The first non-governmental organization in Shanghai to combat suicides will be launched on September 4, right before the World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10 and more than a decade after the application was first sought.

About 20 psychoanalysts, psychologists and doctors of gastroenterology and respiratory departments in Shanghai will volunteer at the organization; they attended the first board meeting for the NGO on Thursday at Shanghai Normal University.

Publicizing the necessity of suicide intervention will be the top priority of the NGO. Experts are also planning on a direct intervention network.

"Suicide can definitely be prevented," says Shan Huaihai, the man behind the Shanghai Non-Governmental Suicide Intervention Alliance, who is also a psychiatrist at Shanghai Xuhui District Mental Health Center.

He has been involved in suicide intervention for 11 years.

"There are signs for most suicide attempts, which enables intervention," says Shan, who says his studies show that 90 percent of people who want to attempt suicide can be saved through comprehensive intervention.

However, few official organizations exist in China to face this challenge. Mental health centers and some hospitals with psychiatry departments were for many years the only suicide interventionists.

It was not until 2012 that Shanghai got its first 24-hour suicide hotline — "Hope 24 Hours" (5161-9995), run by the nonprofit Life Education and Crisis Intervention Center.

And though Shan started to apply for a NGO on suicide intervention in 2003, it was not until this year that he got approval.

A report by Hong Kong University released early this year provided good news for China. It reported that the nation's suicide rate dropped 58 percent over a 20-year period; from 2002-2011, averagely 9.8 out of 100,000 people committed suicide.

A plunging suicide number among young rural women contributed to the total number dropping so much. The number of suicides among rural women below 35 years old plummeted an amazing 90 percent over a 20-year period — from 35 per 100,000 in the 1990s to just 3 per 100,000 in 2011.

While China's numbers were falling, suicides were increasing globally. The World Health Organization estimates that the global suicide rate grew from 11.6 to 14 per 100,000 population from 2008 to 2013.

Experts say China's drop is hardly a result of improving psychological services — whether through medicine or counseling. Instead it's a benefit of the country's mass urbanization, according to Ye Zhaohui, a Hong Kong scholar who initiated the report.

The huge population migration from rural areas to cities within the past couple of decades has helped to keep the young rural women away from their most convenient suicide tool — pesticide.

But that factor doesn't explain the entire decrease and won't help prevent suicide attempts in urban regions like Shanghai.

No specific number of suicides or attempts are reported in the city, as the subject has long been considered a taboo topic.

Shan says that there are hospitals receiving suicides almost every day.

"I am always puzzled why more and more people take suicide as their ultimate resort when they're in trouble," says Hui Xiaoping, head of the Psychological Crisis Intervention Center at Gongli Hospital.

He knows, however, that suicide can be part of the fallout of the nation's hurtling progress when people cannot adjust.

Depression, of course, greatly contributes to the number of suicide attempts, although less so in China than in most of the world. About two-thirds of those trying suicide in China are found to be suffering from depression serious enough to be considered a mental illness, according to Shan. But that is much lower than the 90 percent estimated in high-income countries worldwide.

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