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Also in 2010, the government launched the Case Management Programme to extend public resources from hospital services to care in the community. The programme aims to help people recovering from severe mental illnesses through personalised rehabilitation services. Case managers hope to strengthen the drug adherence level of patients and provide counselling for their family members.

So far, 98 case managers have been recruited for the seven district clusters under the Hospital Authority. They are mainly psychiatric nurses, occupational therapists and social workers. However, Mui says there is a lack of experienced professional workers to cope with the demand for case managers.

“Once the Case Management Programme was announced, all seven clusters started looking for staff,” Mui says. “You have to take it step by step. Even if universities can produce the human resources, you still need to do training.”

She says applicants for case manager posts need to be qualified and have previous experience of working in mental health. They then receive formal training, attend workshops and go through a six-month work placement before they can work individually as case managers.

The case-manager approach may be a welcome improvement but there is still some way to go, both in terms of staffing levels and the kind of care the scheme can provide.  Eric Chan Kwok-sing, 55, who was diagnosed as a schizophrenic 20 years ago, thinks the current rehabilitation services have failed to improve his quality of life.

Chan says he had a case manager to help him for a year. Yet, the assistance was limited to making sure he took his medicine and chatting generally with his family to find out about their situation.

Chan says it seems the government can only offer support to help former mentally ill patients to survive. There is no comprehensive plan to help them rebuild their lives, to develop their interests and the ability to work. Many people find they cannot get a job.

“What I want is not survival. It’s a life,” says Chan.

Edited by Viola Yeh