Operation Santa Claus

How art is helping some of Hong Kong’s most troubled children to talk again

The Art is My Buddy programme, run by charity Art in Hospital, is providing crucial support to young mental health patients

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 November, 2016, 8:08pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 November, 2016, 10:35pm

“One child came to us and was very quiet, but then she created a collage with lots of positive words, and said she wanted to revive her childhood.”

Mimi Tung, art therapist for the Art in Hospital charity, was explaining the organisation’s Art is My Buddy project, which this year will receive about HK$320,000 from Operation Santa Claus to support children with a range of mental health conditions.

Some are suffering bipolar or schizophrenia, but many are struggling with depression and anxiety, particularly around school exam time, the charity’s workers say.

Operation Santa Claus connecting the Hong Kong community with a good cause

Art therapists hold workshops with young patients at Kwai Chung Hospital, where they encourage them to express their feelings through murals, photography and journal writing.

They report that many teenagers particularly enjoy using their smartphone cameras to create art, which is perhaps unsurprising given the city’s obsession with them.

Jaclyn Leung, the charity’s assistant manager, said doctors had reported a significant change in behaviour, specifically in how communicative they were both during and following a session.

“The medical staff tell us [the patients] will talk more in the workshop than they normally do,” she said.

Tung believed the workshops served as an important stress reliever and gave the young participants an opportunity to express themselves.

“A lot of the time, they feel helpless in their lives,” she said. “They make their own choices in art. We give them a sense of empowerment.”

Art in Hospital, founded in April 1994 and based in Wan Chai, has been running the Art is My Buddy workshops for the past three years with support from Operation Santa Claus, the annual fundraiser organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK.

With the help of donations, the charity operates 42 workshops a year at Kwai Chung, offering support to between six and eight patients at each session.

Leung said project organisers were keen to establish a long-term programme based at one hospital in order to foster good relationships with patients and medical staff.

“We have found the need is great,” she said. “We have found art improves their health. We wanted to have a long-term partnership with just one hospital, to make the effort more concentrated.”

Hong Kong has been criticised for its poor mental health services, particularly for young people.

There has been a worrying rise in student suicides this year, which mental health professionals have partly attributed to an intense curriculum and associated exam stress.

Tung said she encouraged patients to use the sessions to express both their positive and negative feelings.

“It is a fun and creative activity,” she said. “It is a way for them to interact – even if they share that they are feeling frustrated. It can be boring in a hospital.”