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Jockey Club supports city’s first 24/7-operated online youth emotional support service

Hong Kong’s uptick in youth suicides is alarming and has caused great social concern.

Research by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at The University of Hong Kong (HKU JCCSRP) shows that among the young people surveyed, 46% of those responding online have considered suicide, and online respondents are more willing to disclose their emotional problems than phone call respondents.

In view of this, to provide added support to at-risk young people and encourage them to seek help earlier, the Club’s Charities Trust is funding the establishment and operation of Jockey Club Online Youth Emotional Support “Open Up”, Hong Kong’s first 24-hour, 7-day-a-week online crisis support service for people aged 11-35 years. The project is being co-organised by HKU JCCSRP, Caritas-Hong Kong, The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, and The Boys’ & Girls’ Clubs Association of Hong Kong.

Jockey Club Online Youth Emotional Support “Open Up” is a 45-month project, supported by the Club’s Charities Trust with a committed donation of some HK$59 million. The project is aimed at strengthening connections between young people and the community and guiding them to think positively.

By taking advantage of 24/7 technology, the service can align with the lifestyles and characteristics of young people, and identify people in crisis at an earlier stage, so as to intervene and provide help as soon as possible.

Besides providing a 24/7 crisis helpline enabled by a centralised technology platform that will support WeChat, SMS, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger by phases, it offers a chat room on the project website, so that help-seekers can chat with counsellors via different online channels. There will also be volunteer and gatekeeper recruitment and training.

It is expected that the project can handle about 60,000 help-seekers in total, lowering the risk level of 70% of them after intervention. It will also offer referral services to 20,000 of the help-seekers deemed to be at ‘medium or above’ risk level. About 450 volunteer helpers and 600 gatekeepers will be recruited and trained from amongst peers and teachers.

The Club hopes the approach of combining communications technology with a support service will provide sustainable and effective help to those young people who have hidden crises, as well as enhance public understanding of mental health and the skills needed to cope with it.

The Club has been paying close attention to the suicide problem in Hong Kong in recent years and has supported a number of NGOs in implementing suicide prevention and emotional support services for different groups of people.  These include the establishment of HKU JCCSRP and the city’s first Life Education Centre, as well as the Jockey Club Embrace Life Series which brings three NGOs together to help identify students who are emotionally distressed and provide support to these students and their families.