Extend mentor scheme to help community ills

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 November, 2011, 12:00am


Castle Peak Hospital's management and staff are to be congratulated for introducing a recovery-orientated approach by employing former patients as mentors for those in the mental health system. In this way, the counsellors can help show the mentally ill that it's possible to enjoy a full recovery and lead a normal life.

I would now urge the hospital's authorities and those from other hospitals with psychiatric services to go one step further to benefit hundreds of thousands of locals by extending counselling sessions to the community.

A small place in community centres across various districts could be rented or requested (with district councils' help), staffed with former patients who could act as counsellors. They should be known as 'happiness centres' rather than 'mental health counselling centres'.

Several recent surveys have shown that about 17 per cent of Hong Kong people are mentally ill. That translates to roughly 1.1 million people. Consulting a private psychiatrist is expensive (the bulk of insurance companies don't cover such expenses) and getting an appointment to visit a government psychiatrist takes at least six months. And many people don't want to get help because of the social stigma attached to being labelled 'mentally ill'.

A lack of education, perhaps combined with taboos at home, means that most Hongkongers believe that if someone is mentally ill, they must be suffering from something serious, such as bipolar disorder, psychopathic illness or schizophrenia. The only picture people have in their mind is of screaming patients waving choppers in public places.

In fact, depression and anxiety, symptoms that many of us might suffer, are very common forms of mild mental illness. If former patients at Castle Peak Hospital can share their experiences about how they have successfully dealt with their problems, many others might be willing to visit such centres and ultimately benefit.

In fact, the money saved from treating serious cases in future could far outweigh the cost of setting up such centres.

Under a recovery-oriented approach, counsellors serve as a bridge between doctors and patients. The latter will definitely find inspiration from counsellors, who have shown it is possible to regain one's dignity, family life and the respect of others.

The Chinese talk of 'treating an ailment while it is light'. It would clearly be beneficial for people suffering from depression and anxiety to seek advice early before these symptoms become worse.

Medical authorities in Hong Kong should treat the idea of a recovery-oriented approach as a step forward, and embrace it.

Victor Fung Keung, based in Hong Kong, is a commentator on education and political issues