THERE has been an almost fivefold increase in people suffering from minor mental disorders over the past four years. Welfare groups said insufficient preventive medical care was available, leaving many patients untreated and deteriorating. A voluntary group which launched the first and only service for patients won praise and recognition - but no subsidy from the Government. Only limited services could be provided because of a tight budget. About 100 people are on the waiting list. According to the 1994 Rehabilitation Programme Plan Review, the number of people suffering from neurosis rose from 145,116 in 1990 to 684,452 in 1994. The new figure - a 470 per cent increase - represents 77 per cent of the total number of mentally ill people in the territory. The Government said that only 10,267, or 1.5 per cent, of the patients would become chronic and require some long-term rehabilitation service. But Cecilia Kwan Ho Siu-fong, assistant director of the Hong Kong Family Welfare Society, said the number had been underestimated, because many people suffering minor psychiatric symptoms such as neurosis, depression or anxiety did not tell others for fear of being labelled mentally unstable. She said the number was rising because modern life was becoming increasingly complicated. People in the 1990s faced more problems related to issues such as housing and unemployment than in the 1980s. The lack of help worsened the situation. The type of services available, such as half-way houses or sheltered workshops, only catered for severely mentally ill people. 'Those people with less severe disturbances are not regarded as in need of help,' she said. 'But without appropriate services, a mild psychiatric condition can progressively deteriorate into a more disabling illness and a less severe condition may become chronic.' The society in 1986 launched a Mental Health Groupwork service to help relieve stress suffered by parents and youngsters by helping them solve problems through lectures, sharing, rational thinking, relaxation and home assignment. The Government, in its White Paper on Rehabilitation released in May, said the scheme had 'proven to be effective'. And in its Green Paper in 1992, it said 'recognition and assistance should be given to concerned non-governmental organisations to try out and develop new approaches and to fill service gap'. But despite the recognition, no support was given by the Government to the scheme, said Mrs Kwan. Applications for funding for the project were rejected. The service is now given $300,000 a year by the Community Chest.