Hong Kong schools

More than half of Hong Kong secondary school pupils show symptoms of depression, quarter display signs of anxiety

Key causes are stress from university entrance exams and concern about future prospects, study finds

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 August, 2017, 9:56pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 August, 2017, 11:14pm

More than half of Hong Kong secondary school pupils show symptoms of depression while a quarter display signs of anxiety, a study has found, with key causes being stress from university entrance exams and concern about their future prospects.

The survey by Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service looked at 15,560 pupils in Form One to Six at 37 schools across Hong Kong, and found 53 per cent displayed symptoms of depression.

That figure was higher than the 51 per cent recorded in the 2014-15 academic year, the 50 per cent in 2013-14 and 51 per cent in 2012-2013, when the same study was carried out.

When asked what bothered them most, the top problems students identified were stress stemming from the Diploma of Secondary Education exams, other academic issues and concerns about their future.

The situation was worse among upper secondary pupils, who were between 6 and 11 percentage points more likely to display symptoms of depression than those in lower secondary.

How depression can be a journey to self-discovery and spiritual healing

“In the higher years, the DSE examination is drawing closer and they start thinking about the future,” social worker Thomas Fung Chak-tong said.

Even more worrying was that about a fifth of the respondents said they had experienced suicidal thoughts, with 19.8 per cent saying they felt their life was empty and expressing doubt over whether it was worth living.

Some 3.4 per cent had thought of committing suicide a few times in the week prior to questioning, and 1.4 per cent had experienced detailed thoughts a few times every day about suicide, or had even attempted it.

About 25 per cent of respondents displayed symptoms of high anxiety. That figure was 2 to 6 percentage points lower than four years ago.

Scarlet Poon Fung-oi, service coordinator at Baptist Oi Kwan, urged the Education Bureau and experts to look into the pressure brought by the DSE exams.

Social worker Fung said: “A lot of pupils feel that the DSE examination is solely responsible for determining their future and begin feeling worried at a young age.”

Before 2012, teenagers sat two public exams in Form Five and Form Seven.

Chris, a student who declined to give his real name, said he was suffering from depression, and had started experiencing symptoms in 2013 when he was in Form Two.

“I was leading a very fulfilling and busy life, but after I was put in an elite class, I started feeling quite lonely and stifled as I did not have much to talk about with my classmates,” he said.

“I was also alone most of the time as my mother and I moved to another flat away from my grandmother after they didn’t get along.”

As his condition became more serious, Chris started skipping classes and even not attending school at all over a period of months.

Last year, he attempted to take his own life by overdosing on sleeping pills.

With professional help and medication, his condition is improving. He urged others experiencing depression to find people to talk to, and said sufferers must learn not to be too critical of themselves.