For a better approach to mental well-being, Hong Kong society needs to work together

Family and friends can be important influences in helping someone get treatment for mental health issues. Reaching out and letting them know you are there to help them is the first step. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Airman 1st Class Devin N. Boyer/Released)

Paul Yip

Mental health is one of the major public concerns in our city. The first-ever Hong Kong Mental Morbidity Survey, which interviewed more than 5,700 people aged 16-75 between 2010 and 2013, found that nearly one in seven suffered from common mental disorders, such as anxiety or depression.

The Asia-Pacific Mental Health and Integration Index, published last October, ranked Hong Kong seventh among 15 regional peers in having an effective mental health policy. And the city has less than five psychiatrists serving every 100,000 people, far below the median rate in other high-income economies.

With a rapidly ageing society, we need to invest in every part of the system – from medical services to social care. These should be adequately funded, supported and working well to meet the demand.

Staff shortages must be addressed and care better integrated. We need real and urgent investment in heath and social care, and a long-term sustainable plan to protect the population.

The mental well-being of our schoolchildren is one of our major concerns. We should employ the power of government as a force for good to transform the way we deal with mental health problems across all levels of society – not just limited to medical health services, but in our classrooms, at work and in our communities.

The Education Bureau should create space and nurture student’s resilience, as well as recognise their talent, instead of only caring about academic achievements.

Seeking help should not be viewed as a weakness, cause for stigmatisation, or as self-indulgent or aberrant behaviour, but as a sign of courage for acknowledging that all members of society need a helping hand from time to time. Casting aside feelings of shame and embarrassment, it is more appropriate to express one’s feelings than to stay depressed or anxious.

Our focus should be on how to use more innovative methods and community resources to tackle the problem, ranging from training teachers and parents, to taking greater advantage of social media to spread positive messages.

With the new chief executive election in March, Hong Kong’s next leader would do well to take a fresh look at the issue and invest in the infrastructure and resources needed to ensure better mental health care for every citizen, and provide holistic and coordinated mental health services.

Let’s focus on “sharing”, the “mind” and “enjoyment”, the elements of the Joyful@HK campaign, the three-year mental health drive launched by the Department of Health last January.

In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May called for a “shared society”, in delivering the annual lecture at the Charity Commission, the regulator of the sector for England and Wales.

The concept of a shared society asks every stakeholder to do their fair share to create a better future. In a shared society, we should aim to create a friendly, harmonious environment where charities and social enterprises thrive, and which recognises and nurtures talent and ambition among young people, so they can inspire and serve the public. It is where one and all can share the benefits of economic growth, opportunities and civil rights.

Hong Kong’s development has often been hijacked by extreme politics. Let’s hope that mainstream, middle-of-the-road politics can respond to public concerns and restore belief in the government so that it can start working to set things right.

Our wish is for a shared society where everyone can take ownership of, and lead in, creating a better society for all.

Paul Yip is chair professor in the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong

This article was published on SCMP on Wednesday, 18 Janurary 2017. Please click here to find out more.

Leave a Reply