In our neoliberal, corporate capitalist world, things fall into just two categories, the useful and the discarded. Useful things are exploited until used up, then moved to the other category and forgotten.
In Taiwan, that includes children.
Last week the Social Work Department with the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families (TFCF) sounded an alert: the nation’s young are being eaten alive. Suicide and suicidal thoughts among teenagers are spiking.
Photo courtesy of TFCF
According to a survey of over 600 young people by the charity, a fifth had thought of suicide. The charity pointed out that the number of reported suicides and suicide attempts among children 7-18 had risen from 1,152 in 2016 to 5,464 in 2020, based on statistics compiled by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
Lest the reader think the charity is exaggerating to raise its profile, the Taiwanese Society of Suicidology (台灣自殺防治學會) has posted an extensive array of stats on their Web site.
For society as a whole, the suicide rate and overall suicide deaths have remained stable for roughly a decade now. But among the young, the rise in suicidal thoughts is striking. In 2014, the rate of suicide attempts in the 15-24 was 5.1 percent. In 2019, it was 9.1 percent.
According to the Society of Suicidology data (taken from the Ministry of Health and Welfare), in the 15-24 bracket the rate of having suicidal thoughts has doubled since 1994 from 4.4 percent to 8.8 percent, rising alarmingly in the last few years. In 2013 it was still only 5.2 percent.
Among females 15-24, suicidal thoughts have tripled since 2014, to 7.6 percent.
In the under-14 bracket, it has jumped sixfold since 2017, though thankfully it remains tiny, still less than 1 percent. As anyone battling chronic depression knows, suicidal thoughts make it seductively easy to attempt suicide, and can occur at any time, even moments after experiencing something happy, or with something good to look forward to.
As many studies report, the young are deeply stressed about schoolwork and about relationships. Despite the fact that schoolwork stressors have been known for years, the government has done nothing to reduce the school workload and hours. Indeed, it has become worse over time.
It’s easy to blame the political parties for this colossal failure, but the truth is that the over-40 generation has been disastrous for the future of the nation — hoarding its wealth, destroying its environment and overworking its young. They have the kind of government they want.
Like many foreigners here, I have had countless yammerheads in their 50s explain to me that the young are lazy. I am so tired of it that I used to just smile, but now I always argue with them.
Suicides, like other social trends, have a faddish aspect, often driven by the Internet. There was a spike from 2004-2008 as the idea of suicide via charcoal burners had a vogue. That method was popular because the person’s body remained intact. It spread via the Internet from Japan along with Hong Kong, where it enjoyed a brief vogue in the 1990s.
The Internet is likely playing a role in this current spike as well. A recent Journal of Formosan Medicine article entitled “Changes in accessibility of suicide-related information on Web sites in Taiwan during 2016 and 2019” compared the Internet ecology of suicide information in 2016 and 2019.
The authors found that “pro-suicide content on news Web sites increased significantly, from 1.9 percent to 11.3 percent (p = 0.005).” Moreover, the search term “painless suicide” was more likely to hit pro-suicide Web sites than anti-suicide sites than searches using “suicide” in both years.
Even worse, they found that “pro-suicide Web sites still appeared more frequently on the first page of search results, where almost half (25 out of 51) … were located.”
This is despite an overall drop in pro-suicide information during the study period. On the list of sites that recurred the most in their data was Professional Technology Temple (PTT), the nation’s largest online bulletin board system.
Suicide prevention programs are chronically understaffed and underfunded. This paper reported last year that two-thirds of all calls to 1925, the suicide hotline, went unanswered. Universities are supposed to maintain a specific counselor-to-student ratio but many do not.
The pandemic has also been driving rising suicide rates among the young, according to another study published in the same journal, though it is only one factor in a rising global phenomenon. Another? Quite possibly the climate.
As humans heat the earth, our young are becoming ever more depressed about the future. A recent, widely reported global survey of 10,000 people in 10 countries by Kander, a data analytics company, and funded by Avaaz, found that three-fourths of youth surveyed were frightened by the future, and over half (56 percent) thought humanity was doomed.
These findings reflect the findings of a growing literature on the mental health implications of the climate crisis. Studies from around the world show that significant proportions of the global population are experiencing climate anxiety, with the proportions rising where the threat is acute. In one study of Tuvalu, for example, 95 percent of respondents reported stress from climate change anxiety.
The world’s young face a bleak future. It is not a coincidence that an outspoken teenager has become the face of climate resistance. Across the globe, the old are eating the future of the young.
Nearly three centuries ago Jonathon Swift published the most famous satire in the English language, A Modest Proposal, in which he argued that the Irish, impoverished by English colonialism and mercantilism, should sell their children as food for the rich.
In Swift’s time, as in our own, thinkers argued (madly) that workers should be low paid, since that would make them work more. Swift attacks this paradoxical view that the nation is wealthy if its people are poor, and that humans are merely a capital form of national wealth. Observing of children raised for the meat market, he contended:
“I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.”
One wonders what he would write of our own, more savage age.
Notes from Central Taiwan is a column written by long-term resident Michael Turton, who provides incisive commentary informed by three decades of living in and writing about his adoptive country. The views expressed here are his own.
Imagine if poor people were polled on why they drove beat up old cars. Imagine if that poll had several answers, which were “might want a better car if possible,” “want a better car as soon as possible,” “waiting on it” and “don’t want a better car.” Imagine if most people answered “waiting on it” and then, disregarding all other data, from that a scholar concluded that most poor people don’t want to drive a better car. That conclusion is absurd, and yet that is one we have seen again and again in describing the preferences of Taiwanese for the
Foreign viewers at the Cannes premiere of Moneyboys (金錢男孩) may not have noticed the glaring incongruities that persist through the movie, but Taiwanese viewers certainly will. They’re apparent to the point that it’s difficult to enjoy the movie. First of all, the entire film is obviously shot in Taiwan, but the plot is set in fictional locales in southern China, with most secondary characters, passersby and television announcers speaking in Beijing-accented Mandarin. This melancholy tale revolves around gay sex workers in China and the unique challenges they face, especially regarding traditional expectations, including marriage, and the large-scale rural-to-urban migration of
Nov. 29 to Dec. 5 Every time Chu Chen (朱震) flew deep into enemy territory, he knew there was a good chance he wasn’t coming back. With two-thirds of the Black Bat Squadron — 148 members — perishing between 1953 and 1967, the odds were not on his side. Chu had several brushes with death during his six years with the CIA-supported Bats, once surviving only because his Chinese attacker ran out of ammunition. But he pulled through each time and completed a total of 33 missions, the squadron’s second highest. He lived to the age of 86, receiving a presidential
My goals were straightforward. I’d ride my motorcycle from my home in Tainan along back-country roads into Kaohsiung’s Tianliao (田寮) and Cishan (旗山) districts, then loop back through Yanchao (燕巢). I had a short list of places I wanted to visit along the way, and I was confident I’d stumble across a few more points of interest. Turning off Provincial Highway 19A (19甲), I veered northeast on Tainan Local Road 163 (南163) until I saw a sign for Daping (大坪). Like 163, this second (and apparently unnumbered) road turned out to be a gently undulating rural delight. I passed a few