A 15-year-old Hong Kong girl found dead at sea last September was suffering from a mental disorder that made her more likely to commit suicide, but there was no evidence to suggest she wished to take her own life, her doctors told an inquest on Tuesday.
The three doctors who examined Chan Yin-lam when she was hospitalised last year following emotional outbursts were testifying on the second day of an 11-day inquest into the death of the design school student, whose body was found in the waters off Tseung Kwan O.
Chan was generally thought of as a smart and cheerful teen by her family and those close to her, the court heard on Monday. Her rebellious phase began after she sprained her foot in Form One, an injury that prevented the self-taught swimmer from continuing her diving hobby.
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The Juvenile Court had repeatedly placed her under care or protection orders and sent her to the Tuen Mun Children and Juvenile Home six times since September 2017. On the last of those occasions, the court remanded her to the facility after she was arrested and charged with kicking a policewoman last August.
Her aversion to detention also made her emotionally unstable, on one occasion causing her to pull a plastic bag over her head when she was isolated at the home on March 9, 2019.
While the act appeared to be a suicide attempt, social worker Wong Yin-lai, who worked at the juvenile home, disagreed. She said Chan had told her after the incident that she had hurt herself to flee from the facility.
My colleagues and I believed that she did not truly intend to injure herself. She was simply using this method [self-harm] to leave the home
Social worker Wong Yin-lai
“My colleagues and I believed that she did not truly intend to injure herself. She was simply using this method to leave the home,” Wong said.
The social worker recalled another confrontation on August 19, where Chan lost her temper and even caught the police’s attention by damaging the home’s property after spending days in solitary detention. But rather than evidence of a mental episode, Wong believed the student was simply fed up with life at the facility.
After Chan’s hospital discharge on August 22, she explained to Wong that she would hear voices inside her head when she did not sleep well.
Wong said the girl had appeared normal after taking sedatives prescribed by the hospital, but she was unsure whether Chan had stopped taking the drugs before her death.
Castle Peak Hospital psychiatrist Yeung Yu-hang, who was called to Tuen Mun Hospital to inspect Chan after the August incident, said the girl was diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, which was marked by irritable mood, defiant behaviour and vindictiveness. He noted Chan first exhibited symptoms of the disease when she was in Primary Three.
While the doctor acknowledged that patients suffering from the disease were more likely to commit suicide than others, he said that tendency was not shown in the case of Chan, who had expressly denied wanting to kill herself during medical sessions.
Two other doctors, Dr Lam Chi-pang and psychiatrist Sarah Theresa Chung, echoed the observation.
Before Tuesday’s hearing, Magistrate Ko Wai-hung allowed Chan’s mother, Ho Pui-yee, and grandfather, Ho Yun-loi, to enter and leave the court building via special passageways, after he was told the pair had been besieged and yelled at outside the court on Monday, causing them to fear for their safety.
In response, police on Tuesday afternoon arrested a man and a woman on suspicion of hurling abuse at the family and challenging their authenticity as Chan’s next of kin.
One of the two arrested for disorder in a public place was a 17-year-old Form Six pupil known as “Lunch Gor”, or “bro”, due to his participation in lunchtime anti-government protests. He was allegedly seen raising a middle finger to the pair. The other was a 65-year-old woman.
The inquest continues on Wednesday.
The cause of Chan Yin-lam’s death is yet to be determined. However, if you are having suicidal thoughts, or you know someone who is, help is available. For Hong Kong, dial +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services. In the US, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on +1 800 273 8255. For a list of other nations’ helplines, see this page.
Additional reporting by Danny Mok
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong teen found in waters off Tseung Kwan O spent troubled childhood in and out of the system, heard voices, inquest told
- Leave the late Chan Yin-lam’s family alone