Suicides in Hong Kong

Hong Kong children suffer greater mental stress and parents can’t cope, report warns

Report by paediatric groups points to pressure to perform well at school as major issue, pushing some parents to the brink of emotional breakdown

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 June, 2017, 7:43pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 June, 2017, 10:50pm

Children in Hong Kong have suffered a worrying decline in their mental health over the past decade and parents are being pushed to breaking point as a result, a new report suggests.

The city’s young people are increasingly unhappy after enduring two decades of “ineffective ad hoc and remedial government strategies” on youth mental health, according to a damning report by the Hong Kong Paediatric Society and the Hong Kong Paediatric Foundation released on Sunday.

“There was no designated section for children in the [chief executive] policy addresses, not to mention a comprehensive child health policy and the children’s commission,” foundation chairman Dr Chan Chok-wan said.

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The report includes results of a survey on stress facing children and parents as well as an analysis of children’s mental health.

It says the government has failed to tackle the “root causes” of declining mental health among young people, and this has consequently resulted in a “vicious circle” in which parents are pushed to the brink of emotional breakdowns.

According to the survey that polled 1,300 parents of kindergarten and primary students between May and June, almost two-thirds of parents cited pressure to perform well academically as the most common source of stress for children.

Half of parents admitted their own expectations of their children were also causing them significant stress.

Parents in turn reported they became increasingly stressed about their child’s academic performance as they transitioned from kindergarten to primary school.

About 70 per cent said they were suffering from emotional problems as a result of childcare pressures.

Almost two thirds of parents surveyed also reported suffering from insomnia caused by childcare-related stress.

A total of 88 per cent of Hong Kong parents said they received inadequate government support.

According to official statistics cited in the report, the number of children and adolescents being treated for mental illness in public hospitals has increased by more than 50 per cent from 18,900 in 2011-12 to 28,800 in 2015-16.

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The report also found that the annual number of youth suicides in the city, which has fluctuated over the last two decades, tended to increase shortly after any temporary government measures to tackle the problem were stopped.

The average annual number of student suicides has been about 23 since 2010, according to figures from the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention.

Chok criticised Hong Kong’s last three chief executives for “not being effective nor directional” on child welfare policies to improve the situation, suggesting current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was the worst.

Repeating calls for the government to introduce a dedicated children’s commission to oversee child welfare, he said the system needed to be “streamlined” to make it “harmonious”.

“I think they have not done it until now because it would put government policy under stricter guidelines,” he said.

“There is also a perceived manpower constraint. But the children’s commission would be the one which would deal with all these affairs. The money used would be much better utilised. That in the long run is the best way to handle this issue.”

If you are feeling stressed or in need of support, contact Samaritan Befrienders’ 24-hour hotline on 2389 2222