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How four deaths darkened Hong Kong's protest movement

"We will achieve what is left to do," wrote one.

The death of the woman – known to most of the world under her surname Mak – was the fourth suspected suicide prompted by local media to ongoing demonstrations, initially triggered by a controversial extradition law many feared that it could further restrict the freedoms in the semi-autonomous city.

The demonstrators talked about victims, hopelessness and a loss of confidence in their leaders. The four deceased have established themselves in the art of protest and have been treated by some demonstrators as heroes of the cause.

But experts warn that this kind of rhetoric is risky. With many demonstrators in their teens and early twenties in a city lacking in psychological support, they warn that treating heroes as heroes could endanger others.

The Battle for Hong Kong

The movement to block the extradition law was considered from the start as a binary struggle for life or death.

When at least hundreds of thousands marched in early June, through some measures up to a million, activists called this a "last chance to fight for Hong Kong."

The death of the demonstrators has only contributed to this intensity.

  Mourners in Hong Kong place flowers and offer prayers on June 1[ads1]6, 2019, at the site where a protester died.

Demonstrators made banners of yellow raincoats and gave the illusion that the first suicide bomber, a 35-year-old man who died in a striking yellow raincoat, was hovering above them. The demonstrators wore black and waved black flags to honor the dead. Some demonstrators pointed to the government. For a while, a blood-red poster was omnipresent. It read, "Stop killing us."

"He sacrificed a lot for us," said a 16-year-old schoolgirl, who just called her name Athena, about the man on one of the marches. "This is related to the political system of Hong Kong – it is life threatening and fateful."

In places in the city, demonstrators held memorial sites for the dead. They stacked flowers on footpaths that formed small white and sculpted mountains, leaving notes to the dead that they would never read.

"Dear hero, we will fight for you", one read on a piece of white paper decorated with a heart. "He was pulled down by the regime," says another article.

  Protesters hold placards in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019, during a demonstration against the now suspended Extradition Law.

Those who died by suicide also became institutions of protest art. One showed the 35-year-old man and another victim holding hands as they approached the light with the words, "Friend, do not go, Hong Kong, do not give up." Even messages that the demonstrators did not represent took on a darker tone. "When we burn, burn with us," read a huge, deep red banner.

Death was a topic of discussion for some demonstrators. "Die for Hong Kong," some protesters were singing. A manifesto shared on Telegram – an encrypted app that was widely used during the protests – thanked "heroes who pay their blood and their lives."
  Protest posters depict a 35-year-old suicide victim in Admiralty, Hong Kong, on July 1, 2019. The left reads:
At a press conference, pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo urged demonstrators to "drop the martyr mentality."

"We have to remind them that it's not worth it, time is always on the side of the boys," she said. The problem is that the boys do not necessarily feel that way.

Why it's Getting Dark

Hong Kong is a city that's familiar with protests. But the protests were not always like this movement.

In 2014, democracy-promoting demonstrators spent 79 days in the streets of downtown Hong Kong. Although there were fights, it was largely peaceful and optimistic and the demonstrators – many of them students – sang songs, built supply tents and even created areas where they could do their homework.

Hope was in the air.

There was a feeling that democracy could finally be possible.

Hong Kong never had a complete democracy. When the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997, Beijing promised to maintain Hong Kong's freedoms for the next 50 years. Many see Hong Kong as having less than 30 years to become another mainland Chinese city without the freedom of assembly and expression enjoyed in the past.
  Students do their homework in a workspace staffed by the Umbrella Movement on October 10, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Despite the optimism of the 2014 movement, when it ended, none of its goals had been achieved. Important protest leaders were imprisoned, and in the following years enthusiasm for protests faded.

When the protesters took to the streets earlier this year, they released scientists at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, according to Samson Yuen, a politician, years of repressed anger and distrust of the government.

This anger soon intensified. The police have fired pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets, actions that were considered cumbersome by protesters. Although Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has suspended the bill, she has repeatedly refused to withdraw or respond to other demands, such as an independent police investigation.

The four alleged suicides added another emotional element – especially because many saw death as the guilt of the government, Yuen said.

"The protest is about Hong Kong's life and death," he said. "The protests are about continuing the wishes of those who gave their lives."

"It's about how people trust the system and how people can still have confidence in the future of Hong Kong."

At a press conference earlier this month, Hong Kong leader Lam said she was saddened by the demonstrators who had violated the bill itself. She added that the government has asked many non-governmental organizations to provide emotional counseling services "in the hope of alleviating the negative emotions that plague society in Hong Kong."

  The police fires in the early hours of July 2, 2019 Hong Kong (China) teargas in protesters outside the legislature.

A 34-year-old protester who asked not to be named, said he had joined the protests after seeing the "brutal" police ac on June 12 – and received "faith and courage" by the death of the first protester on 15 June.

"The death of the (the protester) forced people to recognize the government of our city has changed," he said. "Our impression of a government that cares about the people is shaken."

"We have decided to ignore for years that our city is slowly changing, but this time we can not."

A hopeless future?

The bleak language – and the speed of deaths – has worried lawmakers and mental health professionals.

Paul Yip, director of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Center for Suicide Research and Prevention (CSRP), was concerned about the risk of counterfeit suicides and the potential negative impact of the atmosphere on adolescents with pre-existing mental health problems.

Yip warned that the transformation of people who may have had mental health problems into martyrs could bring with them the risk of suicide, which could have an infectious effect.

"These people … are the victims of a psychologically stressed environment," he said.

  People holding flowers in the rain before a commemoration on July 11, 2019 in Hong Kong for a deceased demonstrator.
He was also worried about how the media reported the deaths that he believed might encourage others to commit suicide. Some local media have simplified the reasons for suicide and referred to suicide methods – both of which are discouraged by the World Health Organization's Suicide Reporting Guidelines as they could trigger suicidal thoughts on vulnerable readers.
In 2017, the year in which data are available, Hong Kong's estimated age-standardized suicide rate was 9.5 out of 100,000, compared to 10.5 globally. Hong Kong's overall suicide rate fell between 2015 and 2017, while it has risen among 15- to 24-year-olds, according to CSRP.

And there are indications that mental health in the city has had a negative impact on the protests. Clarence Tsang, managing director of Samaritan's Befrienders Hong Kong, said his organization received 73 phone calls from people worried about the social movement in June, compared to just a handful in recent months.

"Most of them feel hopeless, saying that there is no way out, they have not seen a future," he said, adding that some were saddened by death, while others were upset by family tensions over the movements
  People offer prayers during a vigil in Hong Kong on July 6, 2019 to commemorate the four deceased protesters.

Recent studies by the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong showed that the prevalence of probable depression among respondents increased by 9.1% between June 22nd and July 7th The study found that the likely depression in the city has increased in recent years from 5.3% during the Occupy Central movement in 2014 to 6.1% in September 2017, three years after the end of the failed movement. [19659022] Despite all the negativity some people people in Hong Kong have gathered. Clinical psychologist Candice Powell has set up a hotline for journalists traumatized by the violence they have experienced. Legislator Roy Kwong – a former social worker – has volunteered as a volunteer on call for protesters.

In so-called Lennon Walls in the city, protesters wrote notes on post-its that spurred each other on. "Dear Hong Kong, everything will be fine," it says in one.

  People are going before a so-called

Yong Pui-tung, the 28-year-old best friend of Mak, said others should have more talk and not feel alone.

I do not want that to happen again, "she said," We should all talk more with our friends – you should not feel lonely because everyone is with us.

"Hong Kong people, we stand as one and we should stay strong."

Kwong meanwhile urged protesters who think of the future, which he did not believe was as negative as many had expected.

"I think people need to keep a normal, calm attitude," he said. "You must know this is a constant battle."

How to get help: Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 in the United States. Call in Hong Kong at +852 2896 0000] The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services . The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.

Contributions: Stephy Chung from CNN, Maisy Mok, Jessie Yeung, Jadyn Sham and Charmaine Le We contributed to this report from Hong Kong.

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