Living in a cramped city, with soaring stress levels caused by work and family pressure, Hong Kongers are vulnerable to mental health issues. A survey conducted by organisers of last year’s Mental Health Month found one in three people in the city suffer from mental health problems.
Hong Kong faces a growing and urgent demand for mental health services – there are now more than 190,000 mentally ill patients receiving the Hospital Authority’s psychiatric services. But Hong Kong lags behind other developed economies when it comes to the provision of such services. Mental health is often swept under the carpet due to social stigma, apart from when sufferers hit the headlines in sensational media reports.
Varsity looks at how a lack of resources, especially in manpower, puts great pressure on frontline mental health professionals and limits the time they can spend with each patient. The quality of care is affected as staff do not have the time to properly explain the effects of prescribed antipsychotics and help patients better understand their own condition. As a result, adherence to medication and other treatment suffers.
From the perspective of patients, the government has been providing resources to help them survive. However, what they really want, as one of our interviewee’s says, are ways to rebuild their lives.
Mental disorders not only affect the lives of those living with the condition, but also that of their carers. Widespread stigma and discrimination against mental illness imposes emotional pressure on them. Apart from emotional stress, they are also prone to financial pressure both because of the high costs of private treatment and the fact that some quit their jobs to care for their loved one. This puts carers themselves at great risk of developing mental health issues such as depression.
We hear from the carers who play such an indispensable role in mentally ill patients’ recovery. They need social and technical support to help them understand mental disorders, to help those with mental illness and to cope with stress.
One of the most overlooked groups of people with mental health problems are the elderly. Depression and dementia are common among older people. Studies show suicide among the elderly is highly correlated to depression. Yet, in this busy city, the elderly are often left at home and their emotional needs neglected.
Although older people may hold back on expressing their feelings and needs, psychiatrists suggest it is easy to spot the signs of mental illness and help the elderly to receive earlier treatment to control the symptoms.
Mental health is a complicated issue that involves many people in society. It is time for the government and for all of us to pay more attention to mental health care.