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, 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 neurobiology of suicide, head trauma and suicide risk, and the genetic imprint of early life adversity as it relates to suicide risk.
  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 15
Participation in lectures and tutorials 25
Reflection paper 30
Proposal writing 30

Required Reading

  • Broadhurst, R., & Hong Kong Lotteries Fund Advisory Committee. (2005). Homicide followed by suicide in Hong Kong 1989-2001: A report for the Hong Kong Lotteries Fund Advisory Committee. Hong Kong: Centre for Criminology, The University of Hong Kong.
  • Chan, C. H., Caine, E. D., Chang, S. S., Lee, W. J., Cha, E. S., & Yip, P. S. F. (2015). The impact of improving suicide death classification in South Korea: A comparison with Japan and Hong Kong. PloS one10(5), e0125730.
  • Cheng, Q., Chen, F., Lee, E. S., & Yip, P. S. (2018). The role of media in preventing student suicides: A Hong Kong experience. Journal of affective disorders227, 643-648.
  • Cheng, Q., Chen, F., & Yip, P. S. (2017). Media effects on suicide methods: A case study on Hong Kong 1998-2005. PLoS one12(4), e0175580.
  • Friend, T. (2003, October 13). Jumpers, The fatal grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge. The New Yorker. From https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/10/13/jumpers
  • Johnson, B. D. (1965). Durkheim’s one cause of suicide. American Sociological Review, 30(6), 875-886.
  • Law, Y, Yip, P. S. F., Lai, C. C. S., Kwok, C. L, Wong, P. W. C., Liu, K,. Wong, T. (2016). A Pilot study on the efficacy of volunteer mentorship for young adults with self-harm behaviors using a quasi-experimental design. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 37(6), 415-426.
  • Moore, C. (2013, May 19). A writing class focused on Goodbyes. The New York Times. From https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/a-class-focused-on-goodbyes/
  • Phillips, M. R., & Cheng, H. G. (2012). The changing global face of suicide. The Lancet, 379(9834), 2318- 2319.
  • Schwarz, A. (2011, February 22). A suicide, a last request, a family’s questions. The New York Times. From https://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/23/sports/football/23duerson.html
  • Webb, D. and Sheean, L. (2010). Thinking about suicide: Contemplating and comprehending the urge to die. Psychotherapy in Australia16(4), 29.
  • Yip, P., Liu, S., Hu, F., & Song, K. (2005). Suicide rates in China during a decade of rapid social changes. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 40(10), 792-798.
  • Yip, P. S. F., Cheng, Q., Chang, S. –S., Lee, E. S. T., Lai, C. -S. C., Chen, F., & Beh, P. (2017). A public health approach in responding to the spread of helium suicide in Hong Kong. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 38(4), 269-277.
  • Yip, P. S. F., Huen, J. M. Y., & Lai, E. S. Y. (2012). Mental health promotion: challenges, opportunities, and future directions. Hong Kong Journal of Mental Health, 38, 5-14.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Professor P.S.F. Yip
HKJC Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 2831 5232
Email: sfpyip@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Professor P.S.F. Yip
HKJC Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 2831 5232
Email: sfpyip@hku.hk