Policy address neglected important mental health issues

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 4:12am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 4:19am

There are 198 paragraphs in this year's policy address, but only one addresses the issue of mental health.

Enhancing the standard of care is an important component of any mental health strategy, be it regional or national, but the promotion of mental health, stigma reduction, improvement of access to services and support for carers, reduction of suicides, and many more components are as important.

The Review Committee on Mental Health mentioned by the chief executive was set up in May last year. It includes representatives from the health-care and social welfare sectors, legislative councillors, academics and patients' families. However, it disappoints me to say that no mental health service users are on it. They are experts in their domains and their voices must be heard if we want better mental health services.

In 2005, Hong Kong spent 0.24 per cent of gross domestic product on mental health care, which is insufficient. There is, and will continue to be, a great shortage of mental health professionals. In 2013, a Legislative Council document estimated there were about 280 psychiatrists in Hong Kong, with an unknown number of counsellors and psychologists due to the lack of a statutory registration system. It is predicted that there will not be enough psychiatry, psychology and counselling professionals to meet the future needs of the city.

Hong Kong is a potential laboratory for developing and empirically testing many information- and communication- technology-related initiatives for mental health improvement because of the high penetration rate of information and communication technology among citizens. Initiatives like web-based self-monitoring, online psychological therapy, peer support forums online and text-based chat via social media will be useful adjuncts to standard services.

Future mental health services should include a clear focus on improving the integration of mental health into primary care to increase the likelihood of early identification of a condition and treatment.

Also, the knowledge, attitude, and practices of mental health and its services among Hong Kong people should be continuously monitored for service development and modification. In the mental health field, much more can be done and with greater efficiency in the future. As a clinical psychologist, a suicide prevention researcher, and a lecturer on mental health, I find it disturbing that in the foreseeable future I will have to keep saying that many mental-health-related suicides in Hong Kong could have been prevented.

Paul Wong Wai-ching, assistant professor, faculty of social sciences, University of Hong Kong