Mental health charity Mind Hong Kong’s upcoming conference will focus on one simple issue: that 75 per cent of all mental health problems arise before the age of 24. “If we are serious about tackling the future of mental health, we need to start by targeting young people. That’s the most important path to prevention, it’s taking a longer-term view,” says Odile Thiang, anti-stigma projects coordinator at Mind HK. The two-day “Hong Kong Mental Health Conference 2020: Youth in Focus” begins on November 6 and is aimed at professionals and educators. It will run online and in person, and will feature 60 international and local speakers. The first Hong Kong Youth Summit, which aims to engage “Gen Z” (those born after 1997) Hongkongers, will follow on November 8. The event’s youth ambassadors are organising it with Coolminds , Mind HK and KELY Support Group’s joint youth mental health initiative, with the theme, “Resilience: supporting each other and ourselves”. Dr Hannah Reidy, CEO of Mind HK, says the added stressors that have come with Covid-19 mean the need to invest in improved prevention initiatives and early intervention programmes for Hong Kong’s youth is more important than ever. When Mind HK launched in 2017, it held a mental health conference that looked broadly at the field, with a spotlight on the stigma surrounding mental health issues . Three years on, the stigma remains, and the second of Mind HK’s triennial conferences will focus on youth and showcase the best local and international research, innovation and best practice. Protests, pandemic playing havoc with mental health in Hong Kong: study “Between the social unrest and the coronavirus coming hard on the heels of that, youth in Hong Kong have been challenged a lot in the past year and their mental health is suffering ,” says Thiang. A recent survey by the University of Hong Kong found three-quarters of Hongkongers are showing moderate to high levels of depressive symptoms linked to the protests and Covid-19. Fostering positive mental health and resilience is one of the key topics of the three-day event. Resilience is not about being perfect and happy all the time, says Thiang, it’s about being able to manage and cope with challenges. For young people, helping build resilience is about strengthening connections. “With the protests came conflict within families. Helping support the family bond is important for resilience. One of the major components for child resilience is having one strong and supportive adult in their life,” says Thiang. Thiang says in Hong Kong parents feel a lot of pressure around their child’s academic performance and young people feel the pressure to do well at school as well as the pressure of their parents’ expectations. During stressful periods, self-care strategies such as exercise and time spent with friends often get left by the wayside, but this is the precise time when they are most needed. “If parents aren’t engaging in self-care then they are tired and stressed and that can translate down to their child,” says Thiang. Dr Laurie Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University in the US and host of The Happiness Lab podcast, is one of the speakers at the conference. She underscores the importance of social connection in promoting good mental health. Research suggests that happy people prioritise social connection. She says that to feel less lonely, young people need to connect in real life, not just over social media. Professor Dinesh Bhugra, professor emeritus of mental health and cultural diversity at Kings College London, and one of the headline speakers, will discuss how best to support young people. His special area of interest is cultural difference. “In Hong Kong, there is a lot of respect for elders, and the family unit has a different meaning than in other cultures and countries. One of the big challenges is that different cultures deal with mental health issues in different ways,” says Bhugra. Between the social unrest and the coronavirus coming hard on the heels of that, youth in Hong Kong have been challenged a lot in the past year and their mental health is suffering Odile Thiang, anti-stigma projects coordinator at Mind HK In some cultures, stress and mental illness are seen as part of life’s ups and downs, in others they are seen through the prism of biology. Some cultures have a spiritual or social perspective. “How does one understand those models in creating an intervention? And one of the big challenges is how do we indemnify those problems early so we can get an early intervention in place, early assessment?” asks Bhugra, explaining that the longer a condition is untreated the worse the outcome. “The target has to be to catch them early, treat them early. They may just need support more than anything else,” he says. The message he will be driving home at the conference is that one size does not fit all. “Cultures have to look at their own models of explanation – how do people in different cultures express distress even when facing similar experiences. There needs to be a clear partnership between community or organisation and statutory services to make sure there is communication,” he says, adding that minorities and migrants show higher rates of psychiatric disorders. Also among the speakers will be Professor Patrick McGorry, executive director of specialist mental health services for young people provider Orygen; Dr Roger Ng, president of the Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists; Dr Grace Ho, assistant professor at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University; and Hong Kong Olympic swimmer Yvette Kong Man-yi . For the full line-up, vistit www.hkmentalhealthconference.com . Tickets for the conference (HK$780/day or HK$1,200 for two days) and the youth summit (HK$50) are available from Ticketflap, with subsidised rates for NGO workers, school counsellors and students. How to build resilience Experts provide seven pointers to help young people overcome adversity and develop mental fortitude. 1. Be other-oriented : “I think young people need to break from the selfish culture that focuses on their own achievements and think more broadly about how they can do meaningful things that help other people,” Santos says. 2. Experience gratitude : “We have a culture nowadays of complaining but taking time to count your blessings is a much faster way to feel better,” suggests Santos. 3. Healthy habits : “To feel happier, young people should make sure to prioritise healthy habits like sleep and exercise,” Santos recommends. 4. Take time out : “We all need to make time for ourselves and find inner space and peace. Listen to music , do yoga, meditation , tai chi, whatever is your interest,” says Bhurga. 5. Seek help : “If you are feeling low and have no energy, see the school counsellor to get cognitive behavioural therapy or behavioural therapy or counselling sessions to work through challenges,” Bhurga advises. Feeling burned out? You need self-care to beat stress and be happy 6. Nurture a positive view of the self : “Focus on your strengths and learn to leverage those strengths when struggling,” says Thiang. 7. Engage in self-care : “Take care of yourself and engage in health behaviours – exercise and connect with friends – and develop your own passions and hobbies ,” Thiang advises.