Another domestic tragedy highlights Hong Kong's dire need for sufficient mental health services

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 September, 2015, 1:38am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 September, 2015, 1:38am

According to World Health Organisation standards, Hong Kong is short of around 400 psychiatrists needed to treat new and chronic cases of mental illness in a city of this size. The most worrying example is to be found in our public health system.

According to senior psychiatrists, a specialist has to see at least 30 patients in a three-hour session of consultations and the Hospital Authority has been short of nurses to maintain visits to psychiatric outpatients.

These are not revelations.

Such depressing observations tend to go around in the wake of domestic tragedies that never cease to shock the community.

They have arisen again after a 38-year-old mother leapt from the 30th floor of a public housing block in Tuen Mun last week with her 10-year-old son.

Police are investigating an apparent murder-suicide. It emerged she had suffered from postnatal depression ever since giving birth , prompting concern whether she had received adequate medical treatment.

The Hospital Authority says the woman had her last hospital consultation in April.

In another example of a stressed system, the average queuing time for a first appointment with a psychiatrist jumped from three to seven weeks between 2000 and 2012.

Access to psychiatric resources that meet WHO standards will not eradicate mental illness or the risk of tragedy. But timely intervention, regular treatment, counselling and support might alleviate the terrible toll of children at the hands of parents who take the distorted view that it is for the children's good.

Mental health services must compete with other social priorities for resources.

There remains merit in the suggestion, from the Hong Kong Mental Health Council, of a commission to handle long-term patients who can miss out under a policy that focuses on medical services.

There may be constraints on the HA's budget, but the government cannot claim it does not have the money to address an egregious example of under-resourcing.

At the least it could aim at restoring service quality to year 2000 levels as a first step.