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In 2010, the Social Welfare Department launched 24 Integrated Community Centres for Mental Wellness (ICCMW) to try and provide social support for people with mental illness and aid the re-integration of mentally-ill outpatients into the community. Patients’ family members are included as one of the target groups of the service.

However, Carmen Wong Lai-moy, a former clinical supervisor in one of the ICCMW on Hong Kong Island, says due to insufficient manpower, ICCMW’s staff are overwhelmed by the number of patients they have to serve, let alone their family carers.

Pang from SOCO agrees with Wong that the allocation of resources is worrying.

“In one ICCMW, there are around three administration staff, eight social workers, one nurse and one psychiatric therapist. With only 24 ICCMW serving 18 districts in Hong Kong, there is an imbalanced distribution of support,” says Pang.

Legislator Peter Cheung Kwok-che, who represents the social welfare functional constituency, believes the government needs to revise the existing mental health medication system. He says there needs to be a more objective framework of assessment for treating patients, stating the treatment approach and giving a projection of the resources required. A timetable should then be drawn up for the allocation of resources.

Cheung believes the community needs to be involved too and that those on the frontline should be setting up concern groups. “Talking about community care, we should come up with a policy by public discussion, and no longer confined to the experts’ level,” he says. Cheung says such discussion could inspire community education which would help to eliminate stigma.

The case of Lily Chan’s daughter shows that with treatment and family and community support, even people with severe mental illnesses can lead full and independent lives. Her schizophrenia is under control, she has a job and is living in a halfway hostel which she chose herself. She visits her parents every weekend and the family has encouraged her to apply for public housing. It has not been easy but Lily Chan and her family are relieved their daughter is able to start a new life.

“A table has four legs and a car has four wheels. Likewise, medication, community support, family care and the patient himself [makes a full recovery package],” says Chan.

Chan says she apologised to her daughter after the stabbing incident. Together, the family learned to express their emotions properly to foster effective communication.

“My daughter asked me, ‘Mum can I come back? Are you still angry with me?’ I said you are part of me and I will always love you,” Chan recalls. “Love eventually heals all.”

Edited by Stephanie Cheng