Depressed Hong Kong students need better mental health support in schools
Victor Fung Keung says with the majority of local students reporting emotional problems, the new administration could use some of the extra HK$5 billion to hire clinical psychologists and boost counselling services
Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is missing a key area as she doles out an extra HK$5 billion a year in education spending. The main beneficiaries will be students of self-financed degree programmes in private universities, as each would receive a HK$30,000 subsidy, while local students attending universities on the mainland would get a HK$5,000 subsidy.Contract teachers would benefit as well, as most would become tenured staff.
However, the chief executive should also have allocated some of the HK$5 billion for hiring clinical psychologists to be stationed in primary and secondary schools.
A recent survey revealed nearly 70 per cent of young students in Hong Kong are emotionally disturbed. Unfortunately, in the current situation, 20 schools (each with 700 to 800 students) share one clinical psychologist.
Clinical psychologists can counsel students about emotional problems before they escalate and the youngsters end up hurting themselves or even committing suicide. Educators say they would like to see more support for depressed students.
The survey found that those who were most unhappy had spent more time online and were more likely to have suffered cyberbullying. This, in turn, caused some to react aggressively online, becoming bullies themselves. Others suffered deep depression.
The study, released last week, polled 3,000 students aged 10 to 16 and was led by Dennis Wong Sing-wing, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at City University. While Wong said the government should carry out a survey of students’ mental health, school principals hope more counselling services could be allocated.
According to the survey, carried out from April to June last year as part of a five-year study commissioned by the government’s Quality Education Fund, around 64 per cent of students felt worried or frustrated. More than half felt useless.
Psychologists say these feelings described by students are classic symptoms of depression. Some may turn more inward and become deeply depressed, while others may become bullies.
Principals say schools are desperately short of mental health professionals, such as clinical psychologists. While they can educate students about cybersecurity and the need to uphold decent values, more must be done to help students tackle their mental health issues.
Let’s hope Lam and her team pay attention to the principals’ calls and allocate some of the HK$5 billion to where it can do a lot of good; principals should, after all, know what is needed most.
Victor Fung Keung is an adjunct professor at Hong Kong Shue Yan University