South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Paul Yip and Shusen Chang
Paul Yip and Shusen Chang call for committed efforts to improve care for Hongkongers’ mental well-being, at a time of social strife and tension
World Mental Health Day, today, comes a month after World Suicide Prevention Day. Promoting mental health and preventing suicide are two sides of the same coin. The theme for this year is “Living with schizophrenia”.
Schizophrenia is a severe form of mental illness causing disturbances in thinking, perception and emotion. It generally affects around 1 per cent of the population. This means an estimated 70,000 Hong Kong people live with this condition. It is treatable, and treatment usually works better if it starts early.
Unfortunately, many people with schizophrenia start treatment late, receive inadequate care, face stigma and are isolated from society. When patients with schizophrenia have to live with the condition or even behave dangerously towards themselves or others, it is often a result of inadequate treatment. This can unfortunately further heighten the stigma towards the disorder and those suffering it.
We need committed and concerted efforts from all parties and better government resources to improve care for sufferers, while strengthening support for affected families and carers who are often overlooked. We also need to enhance access to professional care, and educate the public. At present, there are only 278 registered psychiatrists in Hong Kong – or 0.39 per 10,000 population, well below World Health Organisation recommendations of 1 per 10,000.
According to the WHO, mental health is not only the absence of mental illness, but “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”. Good mental health enables us to fully enjoy daily life, and appreciate other people and our environment.
We need to pay special attention to the general mental health of Hong Kong people, especially at a time, like now, when society is experiencing great stress. Confrontations between pro- and anti-Occupy Central camps have polarised the community. The use of tear gas and the violence that has broken out have caused considerable anger and frustration. Tolerance is running thin with blocked roads, closed schools, and business suffering. Many people are saddened, confused and disappointed.
Even when the protests come to an end, the underlying causes and dissatisfaction will still need to be addressed. We need to understand the frustrations of our young people, and their voices need to be heard and responded to.
Whether it’s during a tough period or normal days, maintaining mental well-being is crucial. The government has pledged to announce its mental health strategies but this promise has yet to be fulfilled. At all levels, more resources should be invested to raise awareness of the significance of mental health, break stigmas, improve the accessibility and quality of mental health services, and encourage people in need to seek and accept help.
It takes time for people and society to recover from traumatic experiences. We must be hopeful that the wounds will heal if we treat them properly.
Paul Yip is the director of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, and Shusen Chang is a research assistant professor, at the University of Hong Kong