Battle to ease fears over the mentally ill

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2012, 12:00am


Misconceptions about mental illness are still rife.

Parents are reluctant to let their children take part in a government initiative that tries to promote a better understanding of psychiatric patients.

Despite running for over a decade and involving 60,000 pupils from 52 schools, the Health in Mind project, organised by the Hospital Authority, still comes up against preconceived ideas about mental illnesses.

'After hearing how psychiatric patients chop strangers, my parents told me to be very careful when getting along with them,' said Steven Ng Tsz-foo, a pupil at Cotton Spinners Association Secondary School in Kwai Chung - the same district where a mentally ill man killed a neighbour and a security guard in May 2010.

'They are worried about me and told me to be smart to leave a site if there is any incident.'

Such fears towards mental illness were not uncommon in the city, said clinical psychologist Silvia Lee Sze-wai of Kwai Chung Hospital.

'I wish all schools in Hong Kong would participate in the programme, in order to understand how the patients are actually like,' she said.

The two-year programme - which includes training camps, volunteer services, and in-school education to advocate the awareness of mental health - offers plenty of opportunities for pupils to meet and work with the mentally ill.

'They are no different from any of us,' said Leung Ying-kit, also from Cotton Spinners Association Secondary School.

'Even though others [might] think they are dangerous and aggressive, I get the feeling that they are just a bit withdrawn. They may be equally terrified by us.'

Leung said negative news reports about psychiatric patients often fuelled fear and misconceptions.

'As I paid attention to their emotions ... I started to realise how my own emotions would affect people around me. I found myself turning into a more amicable person and I became a nicer person, according to my friends.'