No matter which side you stand on Hong Kong’s anti-government protests, it hasn’t been easy for anyone to see fighting, protests, petrol bombs and tear gas become commonplace in our once harmonious city. As the relentless cascade of protests hit its fifth month mark, tensions in the city have been at all time high. The four suicides suspected to be connected to ongoing demonstrations, as well as an increasing number of young people who claim they’re willing to risk everything – even their lives – for the movement have thrust the issue of mental health into the public eye, a sobering reminder of mental health care's importance.
Mental health care is a serious problem in Hong Kong. According to clinical psychologist and HKU professor Dr. Paul Wong, 13.3% of the local population suffer from some kind of mental health disorder. Yet, our city's patients to doctors ratio is abysmal compared to cities of similar socio-economic standards.
The lack of manpower in psychiatry leaves mental health sufferers with little options. The private sector can be expensive, but the public system could mean months before your next appointment. Sure, one can turn to social workers, but they provide such a wide variety of services that it's difficult to know whether they specialise in mental health.
"Hong Kong's shortage of psychiatrists can be attributed to many factors,” says Dr. Wong. "The government isn't investing much into providing more mental health services, and the quota for quality control limits the number of locally trained mental health professionals joining the field. Then there's also the lack of students wanting to study psychiatry."
With that being said, the government is taking measures to improve the situation. "A mental health committee was set up in 2017, chaired by the ex-secretary of Justice, Mr Wong Yan Lung." Dr. Wong continues. "This committee will explore how to implement the recommendations such as improving the ratio of case managers to patients with serious mental illnesses and expanding the coverage of mental health services in all districts by phases, that's listed out in the mental health review report. This shows serious commitment."
While the government does need to step up and provide better mental health care to Hong Kongers, Dr. Wong also urges the public to take a proactive role. "Only a quarter of Hong Kongers who face mental illnesses will seek professional help.
It's important to remember that mental health isn't something to be cured, but something to be maintained.
Simply being stressed is already a mental health concern, so if you're feeling overwhelmed, talk to a friend or family. If the problems persist, go to a professional. Other than the public and private sectors, there's also a lot of NGOs that provide free or affordable mental health services."