Social turmoil blamed as HK depression rate hits record high

July 12, 2019 17:15
Hongkongers stage a massive protest rally against the extradition bill on June 9.  Experts advise citizens to be mindful of their mental health amid the tense political atmosphere. Photo: AFP

More people in Hong Kong feel depressed than ever before, and experts blame the social turmoil resulting from the now-suspended extradition bill.

A survey conducted by a research team from the School of Public Health of the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) showed that 9.1 percent of the respondents were considered to have probable depression, a level never seen before, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Professor Gabriel Leung Cheuk-wai, dean of the faculty, said the findings indicate that depression among Hongkongers has reached a level that can be described as “mental health epidemic”, but unlike in general epidemics, there is no vaccine or medicine for curing it.

The research team has conducted surveys to gauge the extent of probable depression and suicidal tendencies among Hong Kong people before and after major social events, with the latest one between June 22 and July 7, when social tensions were high over the proposed legislation that would allow extradition to mainland China.

Releasing the results on Thursday, the HKU researchers said the latest rate of depression among Hongkongers, based on random phone interviews with 1,269 citizens, was significantly higher than during the Occupy protests in 2014, when the figure was 5.3 percent.

The research team used the average rate found during similar periods from 2011 to 2014, or 1.3 percent, as the baseline level.

Asked about suicidal ideation, 4.6 percent of the respondents admitted they had entertained such thought, up one percentage point from the level during the 2014 Occupy Movement and up 3.5 points from the average rate in the 2011-2014 period.

According to the latest survey results, the older the respondents were, the higher the proportion of those showing symptoms of probable depression, a finding that had not been seen in the previous surveys.

Leung, the dean of the HKU faculty of medicine, said social incidents not only affect the young generation but can also trigger mood swings among senior citizens.

A former director of the Chief Executive's Office, Leung said social issues must be solved by social means. As such, he urged the government to boost efforts in reaching out to the people, especially the youth, in order to understand their thoughts and feelings.

Dr. Chang Wing-chung, clinical associate professor at HKU’s Department of Psychiatry, called on citizens to be mindful of their mental health in the face current affairs and pay extra attention to whether they develop emotional problems due to too much stress.

Symptoms commonly seen in people suffering depression include low mood, loss of motivation and interest, insomnia, loss of appetite, and negative or suicidal thoughts, Chang said.

People should early seek medical help if they suspect they are depressed, he added.

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