CCGL9053 Global Issues

Suicide: Risks, Research, and Realities

[This course is under the thematic cluster of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’.]


Course Description

Nothing surpasses life and death, and the complicated decision to take one’s own life, as an issue of profound significance. Despite the advances in quality of life that have been achieved, the World Health Organization estimates one suicide death worldwide every 40 seconds. Why do some countries have higher suicide rates than others? What can explain the cross-border trends and discrepancies for suicides in Hong Kong in relation to Mainland China and the rest of the world? How are new trends in social media informing suicide research? What are the biochemical and neurological links between depression, substance abuse, and suicide? How is the “suicide note” being studied as a literary genre? And, finally, what new developments have occurred in the field of suicide prevention?

In this course, students will gain a wide range of perspectives (social science, neuroscience, legal, policing, ethics, and community outreach) to enlighten their understanding of suicide and its prevention. We will traverse an arc that encompasses the very small scale (neurotransmitters on brain cells), to individuals (communication, bereavement, shame, guilt, psychological states), to societal subpopulations (at risk groups, means restriction strategies, media effects), to the world at large (global trends).

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Compare and contrast the trends for suicides in Hong Kong versus other selected countries and reflect on enacted policies across countries.
  2. Evaluate the outlets available for coping – both for high risk contemplators of suicide and those bereaved from suicide losses.
  3. Describe the biological basis of depression and substance abuse as they relate to suicide.
  4. Compare how suicidal thoughts and suicidal acts are communicated via social media, the suicide note, and face-to-face interactions between attempt survivors/the bereaved and healthcare professionals.
  5. Identify challenges and opportunities for suicide prevention and harm reduction, with an aim for practical interventions.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

First semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 8
Reading / Self-study 30
Film screening and discussion 8
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 20
Assessment: Debate / Roleplay (incl preparation) 19
Assessment: In-class quizzes (incl preparation) 15
Total: 124

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Quizzes 10
Debates 45
Poster presentation 45

Required Reading

  • Cavanagh, J. T., et al. (2003). Psychological autopsy studies of suicide: a systematic review. Psychological medicine, 33(3), 395-405.
  • Mann, J. J. (2003). Neurobiology of suicidal behaviour. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 4(10), 819-828.
  • Mann, J. J., et al. (2005). Suicide prevention strategies: A systematic review. Jama, 294(16), 2064-2074.
  • Moore, C.  (2013). A writing class focused on Goodbyes. New York Times.
  • Phillips, M. R., & Cheng, H. G. (2012, Jun 23). The changing global face of suicide. The Lancet, 379(9834), 2318-2319.
  • Rohan, T. (2016). A young athlete’s world of pain, and where it led. New York Times.
  • Schwarz, A. (2011). A suicide, a last request, a family’s questions. New York Times.
  • Society for Neuroscience. (2012). BrainFacts: A primer on the brain and nervous system. From http://www.brainfacts.org/book  [Chap. 11]
  • Turecki, G. (2014). The molecular bases of the suicidal brain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 15(12), 802-816.
  • Webbe, F. M., Barth, J. T. (2003). Short-term and long-term outcome of athletic closed head injuries. Clinics in sports medicine, 22(3), 577-592.
  • Yip, P. S. F., et. al. (2009). An empirical study of characteristics and types of homicide – suicides in Hong Kong, 1989-2005. Journal of affective disorders, 112(1), 184-192.
  • Yip, P. S. F., et. al. (2005). Suicide rates in China during a decade of rapid social changes. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology, 40(10), 792-798.

Required Viewing

Required Listening


Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr Q. Cheng
HKJC Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 2831 5240
Email: chengq@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr Q. Cheng
HKJC Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 2831 5240
Email: chengq@hku.hk
Dr G.W. Porter
Faculty of Science
Tel: 3917 5195
Email: porterg@hku.hk
Professor P.S.F. Yip
HKJC Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 4375
Email: sfpyip@hku.hk