According to media reports, the World Health Organization (WHO) is set to officially classify “gaming disorder”, i.e. addiction to online video games, as a kind of mental illness in the UN agency’s 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), scheduled later this year.
Online video games have been all the rage across the world in recent years, and have become a huge sensation not only among children and teenagers, but also among adults as well. And there is a growing concern in society about the negative impact of video-game addiction upon people’s daily lives, interpersonal relations and mental health.
There have already been a lot of studies in the past which indicated that children and teenagers who are addicted to online video games or the internet are more likely to suffer from concentration problems, mood swings or even aggressive behavior.
In certain extreme cases, some teenagers simply died suddenly after having spent days playing online video games non-stop.
At a recent joint meeting of the Legco committees on health care, education and social welfare in Hong Kong, government officials pointed out that the number of new psychiatric cases involving teenagers in the city has soared by an alarming 50 percent over the past six years.
Between 2016 and 2017, child and adolescent mental health clinics across Hong Kong’s public hospitals had a total of 32,000 cases, with the average waiting time for non-urgent new cases being 69 weeks.
At present, about 600,000 students on average are registering with the Student Health Service run by the Department of Health every year.
Among them, at least 4,000 have been diagnosed as “potentially having mental and behavioral problems”, suggesting that while mental health issues have become increasingly common among our children and teenagers these days, the capacity of our public mental health service just cannot cope with the mounting demand in society.
In my opinion, the main problem with our existing public psychiatric services for young people is that they are scattered across different government departments and run separately with a complete lack of coordination.
For example, some cases are being followed up by the Education Bureau, while some others are dealt with by the Social Welfare Department or the Hospital Authority.
As a result, many urgent and high-risk cases have often been overlooked, and become a time bomb in society. To address this problem, I strongly urge the administration to set up a central coordinating body to run our child and adolescent mental health services and refer each individual case to the appropriate service.
Meanwhile, in face of the rising number of cases of learning disabilities, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among our young people, the government should substantially enhance the public mental health services for pre-schoolers, primary and secondary school students, as well as university students, tackling the issue from three different fronts.
First, the Department of Health should immediately introduce psychological evaluation services into the current Student Health Scheme and refer students who need professional help to the Hospital Authority.
In the meantime, the government should also extend the Student Health Scheme to our universities as well.
Secondly, as far as the education aspect is concerned, the government should divert more resources into supporting students with special education needs, improving the design of the existing curriculum and providing teachers with more training in this field.
At present, there is on average only one teacher in each of our local schools who has undergone at least 30 hours of training in educational psychology, not to mention the fact that there is a serious shortage in mental health professionals such as speech therapists, social workers and psychiatric nurses in our schools. This is an urgent issue that the administration must address immediately.
Last but not least, while the Social Welfare Department is looking after children with mental health issues in a family-based fashion, it should also provide one-stop psychiatric and support services for young mental patients as well as their family members on the community level.
These services should include case counseling, small group therapies, outreach services, daytime training programs, public education campaigns, etc.
However, in order to carry out the above-mentioned initiatives, the government must enhance the trained manpower in our public mental healthcare sector and allocate sufficient resources into it so as to provide appropriate services for families and school children struggling with mental health issues and prevent tragedies from happening.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 4
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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