Students protest official’s linkage of youth suicide to tall buildings

Around a dozen students staged a protest Friday during an international review of children’s welfare in Taiwan, demanding that a local health official step down for blaming Taiwan’s rising youth suicide rate to an increase in tall buildings.
The students, some of whom contributed to Taiwan’s quinquennial report on its implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), blasted official Shen Lih-jong (諶立中) for deflecting attention from the issue.
Shen, who heads the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Department of Mental Health, failed to offer systematic reasons when asked by an international expert during the review meeting about Taiwan’s relatively high suicide rates among young people, the students said.
“Shen’s notion (of tall buildings) involved how suicides were committed rather than what caused them,” said Wen Ying-tso (聞英佐), a student from Taipei Municipal Heping High School.
Wen urged the government to do a better job in identifying the difficulties faced by children and teenagers, including the pressures they face from their studies, peers and family members, as well as in establishing better channels for them to find help.
Shen’s controversial comments took place on Nov. 15, when review committee member Laura Lundy, a professor with the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast, wondered if Taiwan’s government has looked into the structural causes behind youth suicides.
Shen responded, “There has been a sudden jump in suicide rates among young people over the past five years, but if we take out of the factor of jumping off buildings, it is actually not that apparent.
“In other words, the increase in tall buildings in Taiwan over the past decade has contributed to impulsive suicides among young people, which is a focus of our suicide prevention efforts.”
Although his comment drew a backlash, Shen refused to apologize, contending that his words were taken out of context.
Shen said on Nov. 16 that there was no single cause of suicide, as the process involves both triggers and methods.
He argued that recent international studies have found that prevention of “fatal suicide tools” can be highly effective in curbing actual deaths because not everyone who attempts suicide is very determined to go through with the act.
In response to the students’ protest, Minister without Portfolio Lin Wan-i (林萬億), who is also the convener of a government task force on promoting the rights and welfare of children and youth, said Shen’s comments on Nov. 15 were “not precise enough.”
“The Health Ministry will be asked to have Shen address the concerns,” Lin said at the close of the five-day meeting.
Meanwhile, Lundy thanked the students for underscoring the connection between mental health and suicides.
“Actually I don’t have to say anything here because the young people who protested at the start have done a better job. They have shown the point I want to make — [which] is that we must link (suicides) to the wider structural issues that are causing poor mental health,” she said.
Also on Friday, civic groups called on the government to more actively look into the cause of youth suicides and put forth solutions.
Lin Yue-chin (林月琴), chairwoman of the Taiwan Alliance for Advancement of Youth Rights and Welfare, said the issue requires more attention as it was already highlighted by the committee five years ago while reviewing Taiwan’s first CRC report.
Citing Health Ministry statistics, suicides among those aged 12-17 steadily increased from 2014 to 2019 and have remained high since, Lin said.
Though figures for the 12-17 age group are less widely available, the trend is reflected in Health Ministry figures for the 14 and under age group and 15-24 age group.
The suicide rate (per 100,000 population) hit 0.3 in 2018 and 2019 for the first time, rose to 0.7 (21 suicides) in 2020 and fell back to 0.5 (14 suicides) in 2021, up from a range of 0.1 to 0.2 between 2006 and 2017.
In the 15-24 age group, the suicide rate first peaked at 6.9 and 7.1 in 2006 and 2007, then fell steadily to 5.1 (161 suicides) in 2014 before rising again to 7.2 in 2018, 9.1 in 2019, 8.8 in 2020 and 9.6 (247 suicides) in 2021.
A Control Yuan report in 2021 found that a majority of youth suicides could be attributed to mental health problems, as well as relationship and school adaptation issues, Lin said.
Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should contact the 1925 or 1995 suicide prevention hotlines for counseling or assistance.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel