• Nearly three-quarters of Hongkongers show depressive symptoms, a significant rise over last year
  • In addition to introducing mental health metrics into policymaking, each one of us must boost our mental health literacy and stop stigmatising mental illness
The past six months have been as boring as they have been nerve-wrecking. Every day consists of me narrating everything I am doing or seeing or thinking or just making, talking gibberish to a toddler who needs to – according to experts – hear 30,000 words spoken a day for verbal fluency skills.

Without being able to attend classes that have been paid for, due to social distancing, the weight of those 30,000 words fall solely on us parents – no teacher or grandparent or aunt or uncle can help with diffusing that responsibility. And being a bilingual household, we’ll need to double the talking. That’s close to 11 million words in two languages that should have been spoken in the past six months.

Professor Eric Chen Yu-hai, head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Hong Kong, confirmed what most of us have suspected with the latest survey findings. “The overall mental health situation in Hong Kong is not good. We are in a very serious situation,” he said.

The professor’s use of euphemism is admirable. “Not good” is surely an understatement when nearly three-quarters of Hongkongers have been found to have shown moderate to high levels of depressive symptoms – like feelings of worthlessness and recurrent thoughts of death.

Separately, the Mental Health Association of Hong Kong found almost nine in 10 sufferedfrom stress at work during the pandemic and half of the city’s workforce report symptoms of anxiety disorder.

HKU’s dean of medicine Professor Gabriel Leung called the finding that nearly one in 10 Hongkongers have suspected depression in last year’s study “an epidemic of mental health [issues]”. Granted, “epidemic” has taken on an entirely different meaning since last year, but it’s gone up sevenfold. The compound impact of social unrest and public health crisis is catastrophic.

It’s good to see the Advisory Committee on Mental Health roll out a “Shall We Talk” public awareness campaign, but so much more needs to be done. While – borrowing the words of Professor Chen here – mental health policies and services are “not good”, we need more than just the government to do better.

Yes, we will need to introduce mental health metrics into our policymaking processes. But it takes all of us to boost our mental health literacy. It takes every one of us to stop

stigmatising mental illness. And it begins with us coming to terms with our negative feelings and our worries at these extraordinarily challenging times. Our vulnerability makes us human.


As the coronavirus unleashes a mental distress epidemic in Hong Kong, time to face our vulnerability

#RobertReview: 9 | 10

Facing Mental Distress during Coronavirus

Published: 10th August 2020.