Health and wellness

Housing stress is harming Hongkongers’ mental health

More respondents say their living environment has ‘serious and moderate negative impact’ on their mental state, although overall well-being seems to have improved

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 October, 2017, 11:25am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 October, 2017, 1:46pm

Housing is becoming a bigger source of stress for Hongkongers, with more respondents saying their living environment has “serious and moderate negative impact” on their mental health, a government survey has found.

However, overall mental well-being improved from last year. The annual Mental Health Month campaign survey, conducted in July and August with 1,000 people aged 15 and above, concluded that Hong Kong’s mental health score was 59.75 out of 100, up from 56.31 in 2016.

Researchers said this was a “significant improvement”.

The survey was based on a World Health Organisation (WHO) index that measures a person’s current well-being and quality of life, and indications of depression. A score below 52 is considered unsatisfactory.

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The survey found that the top three causes of stress affecting mental health came from work, school and social problems.

But researchers also noticed that housing woes were causing more stress than before. Some 8.6 per cent of those polled said their living environment had “serious and moderate negative impact” on their mental health, up from 5.6 per cent last year.

Research team convenor Dr Ivan Mak Wing-chit said: “A good living environment is a basic need. Housing can be related to a lot of problems in Hong Kong, such as being forced to live in a really small space or not having enough money to buy a flat.”

The city is facing a housing crisis, with high property prices and rent rises far outpacing wage gains, and increasing instances of people squeezing into subdivided flats.

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Hong Kong’s property price index surged by 364 per cent from 2003 to last year. The wage index, before being adjusted for inflation, rose 49 per cent in the same period.

Mak, who also works as a psychiatrist, said he had dealt with patients who sunk into depression due to housing problems.

“It’s not just those who are unable to afford a flat who suffer. Actually, those who own a flat can have a considerable burden as well,” Mak said.

He gave the example of a woman in her 30s, who bought a flat but then lost her job. She fell into despair.

“She was so worried about not being able to pay the mortgage that she couldn’t sleep or eat properly. Her low confidence and high stress levels also meant that she was unable to perform well in job interviews,” he said.

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The woman’s situation did improve though; after several months of medication and counselling, she found a job and was able to cope with her monthly mortgage payments.

While the research team did not have a definite explanation for why the overall mental health score improved this year, they pointed to fewer respondents saying stress from school and social problems was affecting their well-being.