Private doctors forced by the economic downturn to be more competitive in attracting patients are learning how to treat the increasing number of mood-disorder sufferers the economic downturn has created. They are also turning to cosmetic treatments, such as the smoothing of wrinkles and ear piercing. Many believe that only by making their medical services more versatile can they survive. The director of the Mood Disorders Centre at the Chinese University, Dr Lee Sing, said demand for mental health care in Hong Kong was growing because more people were stressed because of the social conditions. He said the centre's first two training courses for doctors on treating mood problems received a good response. A total of 75 doctors completed the eight-session courses at the centre, which hopes to train more than 300 doctors in two years. A Chinese University poll of 1,023 people in September found that one in five people suffered mood disorders. More than a quarter of those with negative equity suffered, compared with 16.1 per cent of those without financial problems. It takes three to six months for a patient to receive a consultation at a public psychiatric clinic. Dr Lee said general practitioners were the gate-keepers of the health-care system and should play a more active role in treating the increasing number of mood-disorder patients. 'The private doctors have a competitive edge compared with public clinics. Their clinics run flexible hours and patients seeking consultation are not stigmatised,' he said. His centre has established a network of trained doctors who could take referrals, thus sharing public clinics' burden. 'My experience in teaching the course is that many doctors do not have the knowledge of mood-disorder treatment. Some doctors just give symptom-relief treatment, even when patients keep coming back with the same complaints.' Quarry Bay general practitioner Douglas Chan Nim-tak is one doctor who has been trying to improve his competitiveness. Having practised for 13 years, he recently completed the mood-disorder course and will later study more about cosmetic dermatology. He plans to invest $30,000 in new equipment. 'I heard some doctors were providing ear-piercing services,' he said. 'We are facing keen competition from public hospitals. The only way private doctors can attract patients is to improve our quality of care. Price-cutting is not the right way.'