Ending Hong Kong’s mental health stigma starts with its youth
October 10 was World Mental Health Day, which aimed to raise awareness of the significance of mental health in our daily lives.
A local study found that one in seven people in Hong Kong suffers from some form of mental health issue, most probably due to the long working hours and academic pressure that contribute to a poor quality of life among adults and young people in the city. Stigma towards mental health and those battling mental health issues not only leads to further suffering for them but also for their carers.
The stereotypes in society regarding the mentally ill can lead to suicidal behaviour, low help-seeking behaviour, low self-worth and self-harm. Stigmatisation and stereotypes of mental illness are fuelled by lack of knowledge, biased attitudes, and previous negative behaviour towards mental health and people with mental illness. Stigma reduction, hence, must begin with enhancing public knowledge, improving public attitude, and changing their intended behaviour.
We have sought to reduce mental health stigma among 120 university students each year through a common core course “The Journey into Madness”. We combine education about mental health and an experiential learning activity into the curriculum. The students take part in activities engaging members of the Hong Kong community who suffer the symptoms of mental illness, as well as educating the general public about mental illness in a proactive manner.
We found that after the students took part in the class and the experiential activities, they were more likely to understand the need for more community-based services and were less reluctant to have as a neighbour a person who was suffering from a mental illness.
University-aged students are at higher risk for psychological issues. Younger people also tend to be more prejudiced towards people with mental illness.
These facts may have contributed to the increased number of suicides among young adults in Hong Kong.
The stigma over mental health issues must be reduced among the young people if we are to help the next generation to go on to lead happy and productive lives.
Paul W C Wong, associate professor, Department of Social Work and Administration, and Gizem Arat, postdoctoral fellow, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Hong Kong; Monica Borschel, clinical psychologist