featureHong Kong’s Secretary for Labour and Welfare launched the annual Mental Health Month in Causway Bay on October 6th, initiating a five-month programme of public education activities, before leading the Mental Health Walk through the city.

“Cultural tradition is an issue. Chinese families never let others know the bad things. They just want everyone to know the good things so they never, never share the bad,” said Mosy Lee of the Richmond Fellowship, one of the participating organisations. “That’s why they never seek help or support from others, because they don’t want to feel the shame or embarrassment.”

Overcoming cultural misconceptions about mental illness is one of the problems local authorities hope to address with rallies and walks such as this annual event and other initiatives scheduled over the next five months.

“Government expenditure on mental health services has increased by over 30 percent in the past five years,” said the Secretary, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung at the opening ceremony that took place in Victoria Park to a crowd hiding from the scorching sun under a sea of colourful umbrellas

The aim of the programme is to connect with people and families with mental health needs at a community level. In the past three years the government has established 24 Integrated Community Centres for Mental Wellness (ICCMWs) service points across all 18 districts. The centres provide a one-stop place that assists those affected by mental illnesses and their families, people suspected to be sick and those recovering post-illness.

Depression, schizophrenia and anxiety are the three illnesses social workers say they deal with most often. Compared to the past, when women were more likely to be diagnosed with illnesses such as depression, the male-female ratio of cases is now almost equal. This balance however is most likely the result of an increase in men’s willingness to seek help. Anxiety is particularly prevalent amongst younger people, especially students.

“In some cases they already have some anxiety symptoms, fear of going to work… they feel anxious about going to find a job,” explains Fung Fei Yin, Service Coordinator at the Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service, one of the ICCMW centres.  “Usually the parents or family members call us because they notice some symptoms but don’t know whether the sick person needs to receive further medical treatment.”

The centres serve two main goals: they work with families and individuals where early symptoms are identified and assist people with a recognized mental illness through programs and activities that complement ongoing medical treatment.