Mental health needs rising

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 November, 2011, 12:00am


Prisoners, welfare recipients and the elderly are among those who tend to need mental health workers to help them cope with life.

Concerns about the psychological well-being of Hongkongers are underlined by the government's move, announced last year, to fund the city's first 'mental health census', a three-year, HK$7 million research project to explore mental illness and suicidal behaviour.

About 1 per cent of Hong Kong residents now receive mental health treatment, but the need is thought to be far higher, says Frederick Yeung, programme leader of the Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Mental Health Nursing at Polytechnic University. He says that like most developed cities, about 10 per cent of Hongkongers would be expected to suffer from psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression.

'Among younger people, the attitude to mental health is changing, but we still need to improve public awareness and dispel some of the myths and misunderstandings rooted in traditional Chinese beliefs that are associated with mental health and mental health treatment,' Yeung says.

The growing awareness of the need for psychiatric health care is fuelling demand for mental health nurses, he says.

Nursing aspirants who hold a bachelor's degree in a relevant subject, such as biology, can opt for PolyU's three-year, full-time Master of Nursing programme. The same programme is offered over two years for students who hold a bachelor's degree in nursing.

Most mental health nurses get jobs with the Hospital Authority. Psychiatric nurses are also required by the Social Welfare Department and non-governmental organisations that operate hostels and community care facilities.

The Correctional Services Department employs such nurses to look after prisoners with psychiatric problems.

Meanwhile, government statistics indicate that the need for clinical psychology services has been increasing much faster than the increase in manpower.

The ageing population, coupled with a gradual acceptance of professional psychology services, is creating such a demand, says Henry Chamberlain, president of the Hong Kong Psychological Society.

'There is a need for more fully trained psychologists across all the areas that psychologists work in,' he notes.

Chamberlain says that while the society is keen to see new talent come on board, it is important that psychologists are properly trained. 'People need to have completed an undergraduate course before [undertaking] their master's programme and also receive on-the-job supervised training,' he says.

In addition, it is necessary as a good psychologist to take a keen interest in people and be service-oriented, he says. Clinical and counselling psychologists must also have a strong disposition to cope with the emotional aspects of the job, such as grief and stress.

As Hong Kong's largest employer of health care workers, the Hospital Authority is also the main employer of clinical psychologists, which represents the biggest group of psychologists in the city. Other areas include educational, industrial and counselling psychology.

To enter the profession as a clinical psychologist, a master's degree is a prerequisite. Graduates in other disciplines can study for a psychology postgraduate certificate before obtaining their master's degree.

City University's Doctor of Psychology programme, offered at its School of Continuing and Professional Education, is designed to train doctoral-level psychologists.

Chinese University offers a range of full- and part-time programmes: MPhil and PhD in Psychology, PhD in Clinical Psychology, Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology, MPhil in Industrial-Organisational Psychology, M.S.Sc in Clinical Psychology and Postgraduate Diploma in Psychology.

The University of Hong Kong and PolyU also teach postgraduate-level programmes.

The difference between clinical and counselling psychologists lies in the disorders they treat. Clinical psychologists work largely in health and social care settings, where they diagnose and treat psychological problems. Counselling psychologists offer therapeutic guidance to individuals, couples and families in a more normal setting. They study human development, body language and how to respond in different situations.