Fri, Mar 24, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Doubts cast on suicide strategy

HELP NEEDED Despite the establishment of a national Suicide Prevention Center and hotline, legislators questioned the efficacy of strategies aimed at preventing suicides

By Jean Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

More than 4,000 people committed suicide in Taiwan last year, Minister of Health Hou Sheng-mou (侯勝茂) said yesterday, causing legislators to question whether the the Department of Health was taking effective measures towards suicide prevention.

Last November, the number of suicides in Taiwan amounted to 3,758, and passed 4,000 in December, Hou said during a legislative committee question-and-answer session.

But the number of suicide attempts could be as high as 20 times the total number of deaths, he added.

Hou said that overseas studies showed that 86 percent of people who commit suicide suffer from depression. In Taiwan, 97 percent of individuals committing suicide had been diagnosed with mental health problems, he said.

More than 110,000 Taiwanese were diagnosed with depression last year, Hou said.

He said that the highest suicide rates were normally found among senior citizens (65 and above), but during the first two months of this year, people aged between 25 and 44 were at the top of the list.

The department established a Suicide Prevention Center last December along with a prevention hotline to provide counseling for people contemplating suicide.

Legislators on the Sanitation and Environment Committee questioned the effectiveness of the prevention center and hotline.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) said that suicide prevention was not solely the department's responsibility but should also be shouldered by other government agencies.

The department-run prevention center had been far too slow in dealing with potential suicide cases, Lin said.

Many with depression were too afraid to admit to their illness, and the center should play an active role in helping patients instead of waiting for people to call the hotline, he said.

Lin added that education plays a crucial role in suicide prevention.

Hou said the department was hoping to cooperate with the Ministry of the Interior, the Government Information Office and the Ministry of Education in preventing suicide.

Other legislators stressed the important role of civic groups and asked the department to cooperate with them.

They also said that the media should be more disciplined after allegations that irresponsible media reporting had precipitated two recent suicides.

KMT Legislator Hsu Shao-ping (徐少萍) said that although the media might have "caused" the two suicides, the prevention center already knew that the victims were saying that they would kill themselves if allegations made against them were reported by the media.

Yet no "prevention" measures were taken by the center, she said.

Hou also told reporters that labels reading "cherish life" will now be placed on bags of charcoal to try to prevent people taking their own lives by carbon-monoxide poisoning, which has been found to be among the top three methods of suicide in Taiwan.

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