City’s got the blues as more than 1 in 20 Hongkongers showing signs of clinical depression

Mental Health Association survey found the number was almost double that of 2014 with factors such as post-Occupy divisions in society and a lack of exercise to blame

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 4:28pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 January, 2017, 2:06am

The proportion of people in Hong Kong suffering from depression has reached a record high, signalling a serious cause for concern, a new study has found.

Around 5.5 per cent of 2,351 people surveyed by the Mental Health Association of Hong Kong – a non-profit group funded largely by the government – exhibited signs of clinical depression, almost double the number reported in 2014.

An additional 9.1 per cent of respondents scored a medium level on the depression index, indicating they should be monitored for depression, up from 8.6 per cent in 2014.

Some 8.9 per cent of respondents also reported suicidal thoughts a few times or more within the past two weeks.

These findings follow the chief executive’s policy address on Wednesday, which included the establishment of a standing advisory committee to “review and follow up on the development of mental health services”.

While the association said there was no definitive explanation for increased depression levels, it pointed to societal changes as a possible driver.

Ching Chi-kong, an assistant director at the association, said that shifts in societal trends since the survey was last conducted in 2014, during the Occupy movement, could be a factor.

“At that time, people had somewhere to express their anger and they may have hoped for change,” he said. “If we think we have lost something, we will get depressed more easily.”

Dr Benjamin Lai, psychiatrist and chairman of the association, said that changes in society, from political upheavals to the economic downturn could affect people’s daily lives and thus contribute to “a high chance of depressive symptoms”.

The study also found that 35.8 per cent of respondents did not exercise for at least 30 minutes at all during the week, and 18.1 per cent reporting doing so only once a week.

“We need a balance in life, so it’s not just about money or work,” Ching said.

Both Lai and Ching agreed that the city needs to increase education and awareness about mental health.

The Hospital Authority estimated that about 1.7 million Hongkongers suffer from various mental illnesses, while waiting times for mental health treatment were the longest of all public health services.

Ching also said the amount of resources to tackle the issue is “never sufficient”, but noted the situation has improved, with an integrated community centre for mental wellness introduced in every city district in 2010.

Lai added: “Mental health should be put up as a higher priority in the policy. Obviously we lack resources – the whole health system lacks services.”

Authorities should work with non-governmental organisations and other bodies to establish long-term policies for resource allocation and development of civil services, Ching urged.

Dr David Tsang Fan-kwong, a private psychiatrist, said the government should look into allocating more funds for mental health services, as well as formulate a mental health policy for the city.

“The policy should address the quality of services provided,” Tsang said, adding that it should involve factors such as education, prevention, and treatment.

“Mental health education allows people to better understand mental illnesses and do away with stigmatisation, enhancing acceptance,” Tsang added.