City Weekend

More than just ‘down in the dumps’: Hongkongers urged to understand depth of depression

Consultant quit her job with a leading bank and founded a wellness consultancy after suffering a mental breakdown while on the job in Tokyo

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 April, 2017, 3:33pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 April, 2017, 3:41pm

Hongkongers must understand the seriousness of depression before the city’s mental health crisis can be solved, a Hong Kong-born consultant has said.

Enoch Li, a former international executive at one of the world’s largest banks who suffered a mental breakdown while working in Tokyo in 2009, said the city’s ongoing battle with depression and a rising youth suicide rate was partly due to a misunderstanding of mental illness.

The 36-year-old founder of wellness consultancy Bearapy said she did not think families were prepared to have frank discussions about depression.

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“A lot of people in Hong Kong don’t understand the gravity of mental health issues,” she said.

“They do not understand that it can lead to death. And there is a sense that suicide is a selfish thing to do. This is a misunderstanding of the rationality of it. Before my breakdown, I was doing yoga and going out to dinner and I thought I was OK, but when the doctor recommended that I see a psychologist, I said I visualised myself drowning in a bathtub. That is when I was told I had severe clinical depression.”

The mother of one who also now runs well-being workshops for large companies, said she also felt the city’s schools were producing young adults who were too preoccupied with their jobs.

“When I told my mum I was quitting my job, she asked me when I was going to get another one,” she said.

“I don’t think at that point she quite understood what it was. And coming from Hong Kong, I had learned to identify myself with my job, so I felt that pressure to be well again.

“Growing up in Hong Kong, it is so competitive and it is very achievement orientated. It makes you feel like you cannot give up.”

Hong Kong’s long working hours, fractious political environment, overpriced housing market and at times restrictive social norms have previously been blamed for rising depression levels among residents. Mental health sufferers also face waiting times of up to three years to see a doctor, it was reported in February.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Happiness Index Survey, conducted by the Faculty of Business at Chu Hai College and Lingnan University in September last year, saw the city’s happiness levels fall to their lowest point since 2007.

Compared to the 2015 results, the survey suggested young Hong Kong people increasingly felt their lives had no purpose. Last year, intense academic pressure at the city’s schools and universities were blamed for a spike in student suicides.

Earlier this month, a Hong Kong mother became the city’s latest suicide victim after jumping from her high-rise flat in Tseung Kwan O with her 10-year-old daughter.

Two notes left at their flat indicated that the woman had been experiencing marital problems, while the other note suggested it was the girl’s choice to die with her mother.

The woman’s husband – an accountant with a listed firm – and his six-year-old son were not home at the time of the tragedy.

The Kwun Tong district crime squad said they were treating the case as a murder-suicide.