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Education

Depression, anxiety rife among university students in Hong Kong as academic pressure, career worries and social media take toll

Those at risk tend to be disadvantaged and face discrimination, and also find their studies difficult, researchers say

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 September, 2018, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 September, 2018, 10:03pm

Close to seven in 10 Hong Kong undergraduates show symptoms of depression while more than half suffer from anxiety, a study has found.

The researchers, medical students from the University of Hong Kong, said the results from more than 1,100 undergraduates who were surveyed in September and October two years ago were higher than for a similar survey 10 years ago.

Those at risk of depression and anxiety tended to be disadvantaged and faced discrimination, and also found their studies difficult.

There have been concerns about the rising number of reported suicides among those aged 15 to 24, rising from 52 in 2014 to 68 in 2015 and 75 in 2016. Of those taking their own lives in 2016, 29 were in full-time education, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention found.

A team from HKU’s Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine conducted the study, published in the latest issue of the Hong Kong Medical Journal, to investigate the underlying rates of depression and anxiety in university students.

Undergraduates were asked to complete three questionnaires, which were designed to evaluate their depressive and anxiety symptoms. Responses were received from 1,119 students enrolled in Hong Kong’s eight publicly funded universities.

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Overall, 68.5 per cent of students reported mild to severe depressive symptoms and 54.4 per cent reported mild to severe anxiety symptoms. Within these groups, 9 per cent reported moderate to severe depressive symptoms and 5.8 per cent showed severe anxiety symptoms.

The rates were higher than for a similar survey by HKU 10 years ago.

“This could be attributed to the increasing academic pressure after major reforms of the education system in Hong Kong, uncertainties in career prospects due to fluctuations in the socio-political environment, and the more prevalent use of social media,” the researchers said.

The study also found that students who exercised regularly and slept well tended to have lower levels of depression or anxiety. Certain personality traits, such as high levels of self-confidence, satisfaction with academic performance or personal relationships, and optimism about the future are also linked to lower levels of depression or anxiety.

The researchers said health care workers and organisations such as universities should be aware of potential depression and anxiety among undergraduates.

“Our study hopes to raise awareness that the prevalence of depressive symptoms and anxiety symptoms is not uncommon among university students. Hence, students should not be ashamed of themselves when they have related symptoms or difficulties,” said study leader Kevin Lun Wai-ching, a Year Six medical student.

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He urged universities to provide more counselling and psychological services and actively reach out to those with symptoms.

“Most universities provide a mental health service but expanding the service scale and more active reach out for students are vital. On the other hand, student education plays a central role when we are trying to tackle the situation,” he said.

A spokesman for HKU said the university ran regular activities to promote mental health.

These included a mental health week held each year by the University Health Service, mental health education programmes and activities by the Centre of Development and Resources for Students, as well as providing psychological and medical services to students with mental health concerns at the two facilities.

A Chinese University spokesman said it had “always put emphasis and resources on students’ all-round development and devoted efforts to promote mental health awareness and wellness in the campus community”.